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Chris Jones & the Night Drivers

The Choosing Road – 2019 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Chris Jones & the Night Drivers

Chris Jones is one of today's top songwriters in bluegrass who keeps stretching the envelope, bringing elements of country, folk, gospel and blues to the idiom. He continues to evolve the genre, by focusing on the song without worrying which bucket it may neatly drop into. Jones has a commanding tenor voice that's perfect for his songs. As with any bluegrass offering, there are plenty of gorgeous harmonies from his band mates and co-writers, Jon Weisberger (bass, vocals), Mark Stoffel (mandolin and vocals) and Gina Furtado (banjo, vocals). Drums, fiddle, Dobro, and pedal steel color select tracks.

Excepting an exuberant cover of Steve Winwood's "Back in the High Life Again," 11 of this dozen come from Jones and/or band mates who are embracing the future rather than relying on unimaginative execution of past traditions. Most would not envision Winwood's tune as a bluegrass, but with Furtado's prominent banjo, it fits in seamlessly with the others.

They make an intriguing beginning with the first track. "Your Remarkable Return," focusing the listener on just who the subject is and what is the nature of the return. "Letters to Brendan," with Thomm Jutz assisting in the co-wrote, seems to hearken back to the Civil War. The instrumental Stoffel/Furtado co-write "Nyhan's Regret" is a reel, showcasing both writer as well as guest fiddler Liz Carroll. Megan Lynch Clowning imbues Jones' harmony and imagery rich "I'll Watch Her Sail."

Brilliant picking from Stoffel and Furtado drive the up-tempo "Bend in the Road" before Jones shifts into a more personal ballad on "I Shouldn't Even Be Here," with nice interplay between all three strings. It's striking how the band can submerge their songs in rural imagery and never sound dated. Furtado, the co-writer, leads another personal tune, the mid-tempo "Who You Want Me to Be" before Jones delivers one of his strongest vocals on the pedal steel abetted "Own the Blues." The requisite gospel tune "Glimpse of the Kingdom" closes.

Excellent vocal harmonies and scintillating instrumental breaks that show total mastery over the bluegrass style are found throughout. Jones is pushing the envelope, but the main ingredients of bluegrass are strongly present.