You know how every once in a long while, you put on a brand-new record, and it ends up being a joy to listen to? Well, welcome to The Time Jumpers. They released their first studio CD on Tuesday, September 11, and the self-titled debut is just that – a joy. Joy in the songs, joy in the playing, even the joy in the players somehow manifests itself from the disc to the air, its tones waiting to be caught by an unsuspecting ear about to be changed for the better.
It’s true that not every cut paints a high-spirited, always-sunny nirvana that doesn’t exist in the real world, not at all. True life does live here in loss, heartache and the sadness of losing a loved one. But as surely as the darkness falls at night, so does joy come in the morning, as is evidenced on this uplifting release.
The Time Jumpers is a band consisting of 11 of Nashville’s sharpest session players, sidemen and recording artists. You might label them a Western swing band, and there is a lot of that music in what they do, but you would be doing yourself a disservice to define them so narrowly. What this band offers goes well beyond the boundaries of Bob Wills and cowboy songs to include big band-influenced dance numbers to country heartbreak ballads, and everything in between.
Although the personnel has shifted and expanded over the years, the current lineup is Dennis Crouch on upright bass; Jeff Taylor on accordion; Billy Thomas (formerly of McBride and the Ride) on the drums, Dawn Sears on vocals, “Ranger” Doug Green, from Riders in the Sky, on acoustic rhythm guitar; the fabled Paul Franklin on pedal steel; the duo of Andy Reiss and IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year nominee Vince Gill on electric guitars, and the triple threat of fiddle trio Larry Franklin, Joe Spivey and Kenny Sears.
You might be thinking, “What’s so bluegrass about a Western swing band that has an accordion and drums?” That’s a fair question. The Time Jumpers and their music aren’t the first act you’d turn to if you’re aching to scratch your Lester Flatt itch, but they are worth our notice nonetheless. Any band that is as proficient in their musicianship, tight as a drum in their live performances and adept in their songwriting as this outfit is, can be appreciated by bluegrass fans for those reasons alone. And the way the band came together is as loose and casual as a festival late-night jam; several years back, some of the players thought it’d be fun to get together on Monday nights to just hang out and play. The Station Inn, well-known to bluegrass lovers as the pilgrimage stop to make in Nashville, became their home. They grew a devoted following there until recently, when they were forced to move to 3rd and Lindsley, a bigger venue that could accommodate the crowds. Nowadays, they draw not only fans by the scores to their weekly gigs, but guest artists as varied as Robert Plant to Reba McEntire come by to sit in for a song or few.
As tight and professional as the band is, it’s still a casual gig; at the end of the night, they split the door money eleven ways and go home. While they’re thrilled to have this new record out, they maintain realistic expectations for the release.
“We’re just eleven people that really, really like each other, that really respect each other, you know?” shares Vince Gill in a recent phone interview. “Nobody has stars in their eyes. And everybody’s there for the same reason, they came down here on Monday night because it was fun.”
While you might expect a release like this to be full of catchy versions of Bob Wills or even Roy Rogers covers, fully nine of the twelve songs included are originals written by members of the band. For Gill, having new songs to offer is one of the most exciting parts of the project.
“I’ve got some of these songs that are very Western, they very well could have been a ’40s Bob Wills type song. You can write those kinds today that will feel timeless and so we did that. Dawn brought a song, Larry Franklin brought a song, Kenny brought a song, Ranger Doug brought a song. I had four or five and away we went – had a pretty original record that still sounds like great old swing music!”
The project kicks off swinging with Larry Franklin’s instrumental Texoma Bound, in which each picker gets to show off their chops, especially the fiddle trio. It’s a great sound that quickly sets the upbeat mood of the whole album. Nothing But the Blues is Kenny Sears’ snappy, tongue-in-cheek take on how it feels to get your heartbroken, but living through it anyway – “When my baby left me, I thought that I would die, but I didn’t! It ain’t nothin’ but the blues.” “Ranger Doug” presents the most truly Western of the songs on the release, Ridin’ on the Rio, a love song to the mighty Texas river.
The amazing Dawn Sears has traveled as part of Gill’s backup band for years, and in the ‘90s had a couple of country hits of her own. She is surely one of the underrated torch singers in Nashville, and she shines on three songs here – her own tale of woe, So Far Apart, Someone Had to Teach You by Harlan Howard and Bill Hervey and the jazz-tinged Faint of Heart, written by Gill and Al Anderson. You will love this woman’s pipes!
Gill paid fond remembrance to his friend, the late Pat White, wife of Buck White and mother of Sharon and Cheryl White of The Whites, in New Star over Texas. A lament to a loved one gone before, it puts one in mind of the sentiment shared in that great country ballad from Steve Wariner and Bill Anderson, “Holes in the Floor of Heaven.”
The absolute standout ballad on the collection is also one of Gill’s songs, a heartbreaking balled called Three Sides to Every Story. Paul Franklin’s pedal steel will just about make you cry as the tale of love gone bad unfolds. You know it’s going to hurt when the lyric opens like this, in Gill’s dulcet tenor tones – “It’s shaping up to be a real bad day…” Get out your Kleenex!
Conversely, the brightest spot on the album is Texas on a Saturday Night, a true swing-your-partner dance hall number that will leave no one sitting on the sidelines. Lots of fun, with tremendous energy, this song perhaps best catches the mood of the stage performance of the band on record.
In the end, The Time Jumpers is a great accompaniment to an afternoon at home, on the ride to work, or to hang out with your friends. Warning: Much toe-tapping and possible head-bobbing will ensue from listening to this record. Good music played by amazing musicians with great enthusiasm is a win-win for everybody. As Gill commented, “We’re not trying to cure cancer with this thing, we’re just having a little fun and we hope people find something that they like.” Or, as fiddler Joe Spivey explained it, “I hope what we accomplish as a band is to just recruit and find more people that might have this thirst for a little reality in music. You know, just enlighten a few folks along the way. I think people pick up on the fact that everybody sure seems like they’re having a good time up there on stage, you know? Because we’re all doing it for the love of it.”