Black Music Matters Festival

Chris Jones

Made to Move – 2017 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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There's a low-key elegance to the music of Chris Jones, which sometimes takes his bluegrass tunes to unexpected places while remaining firmly in the wheelhouse of his chosen genre. Jones and the Night Drivers explore folk and blues directions alongside more traditional tones.

As a songwriter and singer, Jones' forte is quiet, contemplative songcraft such as "Raindrops Fell," a story of destinies entwined and the Civil War era tale of sacrifice and community in "Old Bell."

Things take a bluesy turn on "Dark Hollow," a different take on the classic versions from Ralph Stanley and Mac Wiseman that's saved from being too dark by some stellar banjo work from the newest Night Drivers member, Gina Clowes.

The rest of the band gets an equal chance to shine on the instrumental "Jack Frost," a sprightly tune reminiscent of Tony Trischka or the more newgrass excursions of Sam Bush, especially mandolinist Mark Stoffel, who plays off Clowes effortlessly.

As progressive and expansive as Jones' view of bluegrass can be, the Night Drivers are at their heart a driving, daring act just as capable of traditional sounds as they are of newer styles. Jones' strong, expressive singing voice anchors the country-leaning "Silent Goodbye," and the gospel bluegrass of "Sleeping Through the Storm" combines classic mountain soul harmonies with a scripturally based story line.

Bluegrass today is much more than just traditional fare, and while Chris Jones and the Night Drivers are certainly well aware of the genre's roots, it is apparent from albums such as this one that they're equally able to expand on that tradition in new and different ways.