Chris Jones and The Night Drivers: “Run Away Tonight”

Chris Jones and The Night Drivers

“Run Away Tonight”

Mountain Home Records

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”, the band’s new release on Mountain Faith Records, cements their position. It is a straight-ahead work of bluegrass. Strong songwriting and tasty licks abound. Starting with “Laurie”, the CD focusses on Jones’ strong tenor, with practiced phrasing that fits squarely in the bluegrass tradition. Tim Surrett, of Balsam Range, produced the collection 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 are stable: their newest member – mandolinist Mark Stoeffel—joined the group eight 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.  The Night Drivers were put together twenty years ago, and along the way Jones also released some solo records. As a host on satellite radio’s “Bluegrass Junction”, and a frequent essayist on bluegrass politics and subjects, and he keeps the genre fires burning.

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.

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