The ongoing, if pyrrhic, battle for the soul of bluegrass, rages among newgrass, traditional, jamgrass, browngrass and flavors in between. Chris Jones and the Night Drivers are neo-traditionalists: they follow the Monroe bluegrass form (two instrumentals per album, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass and banjo), but infuse it with a current Nashville sensibility that strikes a clever balance.
Calling Chris Jones and The Night Drivers neo-traditionalist is not damning with faint praise; rather, it places them squarely in the discussion with The Del McCoury Band, Rhonda Vincent and The Rage and other high octane outfits that have embraced tradition whilst giving the genre new energy.
"Run Away Tonight" cements their position. It is a straight-ahead work of bluegrass. Strong songwriting and tasty licks abound. Starting with "Laurie," the CD focuses on Jones' strong tenor, with practiced phrasing that fits squarely in the bluegrass tradition.
Tim Surrett, of Balsam Range, produced, and his steady hand brings brightness and clarity to the songs. Surrett also checks in with some Dobro support, notably playing hand-in-hand with banjoist Ned Luberecki on "One Night In Paducah." Luberecki is solid, sometimes startling, throughout. Although no longer a Night Driver, fiddler Casey Driessen contributes greatly to the tone and texture, notably on "She's Just About To Say Goodbye" and "Tonight I'm Gonna Ride." The fourth Night Driver, bassist Jon Weisberger, co-wrote most of the selections with Jones, continuing his solid work for the Night Drivers as he has with many other artists. "Run Away Tonight" also features a horse soliloquy; for listeners of a certain age, the tale of "Pinto The Wonder Horse is Dead" resonates.
The Night Drivers, put together 20 years ago, are stable: their newest member - mandolinist Mark Stoeffel - joined 8 years ago. Stoeffel is sneaky good; he's not front and center, but his mandolin licks slide in and out with crispness and power. An instrumental, "Shelby 8," showcases Stoeffel and Luberecki's seamless style. Jones, lead vocalist and guitarist, has carved out an estimable career, first as a solo act, and now heading up the Night Drivers.
In all, "Run Away Tonight" represents one of the most consistent and smart bluegrass releases of 2015. It's fresh, but respectful of the bluegrass tradition.