My favorite term to use when I’m talking about Chris Jones & the Night Drivers is “classy-grass.” The group’s music is smooth and tasteful, featuring some of the best, most thoughtful songwriting of almost any current bluegrass group. You’re not likely to hear them mash in B, but the contemplative melodies and lyrics they do offer tend to linger in your mind long after the show or album has ended. Their newest release for Mountain Home Music Company, Made to Move, is the latest in a long string of solid albums for the band and has already spawned a number one song with lead single, I’m a Wanderer.
Like usual, the album is heavy on original music, with all but two tracks written or co-written by a member of the band. Jones and bass player Jon Weisberger are both extremely talented songwriters, and they contribute some heavy-hitters here. One of my favorites is the bluesy All the Ways I’m Gone, a jaunty warning to a woman who hasn’t been doing right by the singer. If she doesn’t change her ways, then “late each night when you toss and turn, then you can count all the ways I’m gone.” Range Road 53 is an up-tempo “going home” number, with the racing melody mimicking the singer’s drive across the prairie to the home of his youth. Gina Clowes, the most recent addition to the band, sets the track’s pace nicely with her banjo playing.
Fiddle from guest Megan Lynch Chowning adds to the lonesome vibe on Silent Goodbye, a poignant tale about a woman whose actions have always spoken louder than her words, especially once she decided on goodbye. Living Without, a solo contribution from Jones, tackles life after heartbreak; guest Jeremy Garrett’s sunny fiddle gives the number an optimistic feel. Even more positive, and also from Jones’s pen, is Raindrops Fell, a gentle, country-tinged song about falling in love. Careful listeners will enjoy the clever wordplay in the chorus.
Other highlights on the album include a pair of songs from Weisberger, Thomm Jutz, and Charley Stefl. The aforementioned I’m a Wanderer is an excellent slice of contemporary bluegrass; Mark Stoffel’s mandolin and Garrett’s fiddle intertwine to create a compelling melody, and Jones offers a strong guitar line, as well. The Old Bell is an intriguing take on the Civil War home front, sharing the story of a town’s sacrifice of their church bell: “To an army starved for weaponry, she might provide some hope.” The lyrics are vivid and crystal clear, and Jones’s reading of the song is reverential and mournful at the same time.
Fans of good instrumental music will be pleased to know there are two such offerings here, Clowes’ Last Frost and Stoffel’s What the Heck?!. The former is crisp and bright, allowing Clowes and Stoffel to play off of each other for most of the song. While there are hints of more progressive bluegrass in the melody, there also seems to be a touch of old time or even Celtic music. The latter is an energetic romp, leaning more toward the traditional side of things, with some finger acrobatics from Stoffel.
Made to Move is a thoroughly enjoyable album, with a nice mixture of tempos and subjects. Though many of the songs here deal with popular bluegrass themes like lost love, rambling, and going home, they’re not clear-cut imitations of classics and standards. Chris Jones & the Night Drivers offer music that is new and fresh, and for that I’m always glad.
For more information on Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, visit www.chrisjonesgrass.com. Their new album is available from several online music retailers.