Tim Stafford & Thomm Jutz - Lost Voices
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Lost Voices (Mountain Fever, 2023)

Tim Stafford & Thomm Jutz

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

Take that shot. The phrase around which this album's lead track is built may well serve as the capstone for the recording partnership of guitarists and vocalists Thomm Jutz and Tim Stafford.

Take that shot — it just may land.

And it does, 14 times across "Lost Voices."

Jutz and Stafford is a natural pairing, both having effectively collaborated with others. Jutz partnered with the late Peter Cooper to create the very impressive Mac Wiseman tribute "I Sang the Song" several years ago, as well as with Cooper and Eric Brace on "Riverland," and Tammy Rogers on the more recent "Surely Will Be Singing." Stafford recorded a couple of albums with the late Steve Gulley, one with Bobby Starnes and has been working with his Blue Highway partners for 30 years; he also collaborated with writer Caroline Wright on a Tony Rice bio.

With crisp bluegrass arrangements broadened with a gentle, Americana, singer-songwriter palate, Jutz and Stafford have crafted a collection of songs about people long departed, genuinely lived and as genuinely imagined, which, in the words of liner note writer Cooper, "reveal those voices as consequential and compelling beyond the grave, quintessentially human even six feet in the ground."

Thusly we encounter Billy the Kid, Robert Johnson and Bill Monroe ("Take That Shot,") Negro League ball players ("The Blue Grays,") a murderous 19th century outlaw ("The Ballad of Kinnie Wagner,") and unheralded Navajo war heroes ("Code Talker"). We observe a mountain-clan, death feud ("No Witness in the Laurel But the Leaves,") witness tall, tall trees ("The Standing People"), the healing granny women of the Appalachians ("High Mountain Rising") and even Emmett Miller ("Vaudeville Blues") among others.

As Cooper also writes, no one has done a duos album like this one. Influenced and informed by the methods of familiar folks like John Hartford ("Wild Atlantic Way"), Gordon Lightfoot ("Lost Voices"), Hazel & Alice ("Callie Lou" and "High Mountain Rising") and Otis Gibbs ("Enough to Keep You Going for A While" and "The Ballad of Kinnie Wagner.") Jutz and Stafford set their own course through elemental themes of North American history — the good, the bad and the ugly — of interest to them.

And, they make it rhyme. (That's another shout out to Cooper, a music writer without peer.)

With them are master musicians Tammy Rogers (fiddle), Mark Fain (bass), Ron Block (banjo), and Shaun Richardson (mandolin) along with Dale Ann Bradley who takes the lead on "Callie Lou." Who writes a guitar-vocal duo album, and then brings in a guest to sing one of the songs?

Two fellows in the service of song.

Thomm Jutz and Tim Stafford.

Take that shot. You never know.

CDs by Tim Stafford & Thomm Jutz

Lost Voices, 2023

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