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Thomm Jutz

Crazy If You Let It – 2017 (Mountain Fever)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Thomm Jutz

If one has been paying attention to album liner notes this decade, Thomm Jutz's name is already familiar. If it isn't, it soon should be. Jutz is a Nashville-based songwriter, producer, sideman and singer with a list of credits longer daily. He has written numerous popular bluegrass songs ("Carolina Wind" with Irene Kelley, "Forty Acre Blues" for the Darrell Webb Band and "Walking In The Blue Ridge" for Junior Sisk), produced Nanci Griffith's excellent "The Loving Kind" and with Peter Cooper, guided, wrote, and produced the exceptional Mac Wiseman homage "I Sang the Song." If that wasn't enough, the German-born Jutz also created the three-volume "The 1861 Project" comprised of new songs focused on lives impacted by the Civil War.

Having recorded a handful of collaborative albums, "Crazy If You Let It" is Jutz's third solo release, and the first to receive widespread distribution. With strong roots in country and folk music sounds, "Crazy If You Let It" is a modern bluegrass album that defies rigid categorization. Americana, then?

The spirit of American history is woven into many of the songs including "Old Railroads," an evocative song with Tammy Rogers (The Steeldrivers) of someone "stuck on those old trains." "Confederate Jasmine," co-written with Jefferson Ross, features a spectre of the country's past, while Charley Poole serves as the inspiration for "Atlanta (Please Don't Let Me Down)," a gentle blues co-written with Jon Weisberger.

In the finest of bluegrass tradition, the album's core group is consistent. Bassist Mark Fain supports the dynamic duo of Sierra Hull (mandolin) and Justin Moses (Dobro, banjo and fiddle) with Jutz handling the guitars. Guests include Andrea Zonn, including fiddle and vocals on the title cut, and frequent collaborators Cooper and Eric Brace with harmony on a pair of songs.

The full-bore bluegrass aggression of "Crossing Over Black Mountain" and "White Water Train," two of several Milan Miller co-writes, stand out as does, for different reasons, the Old Testament (and Ralph Stanley) inspired "Run With the Horses."

The closing "It Was You," co-written with Irene Kelley, is instantly relatable and even slightly familiar, a testament to the effectiveness of concise songwriting:
"It was you, all along;
when I lost the melody, you still kept the song.
And it plays, it plays on and on,
the beauty and the poetry, a love forever true.
It was you."

In a relatively short period of time, marked by years of dogged pursuit, Jutz has become one of the most in demand songwriters, producers, and collaborators in Americana. "Crazy If You Let It" reveals some of the reasons why.