Beyond setting a new standard for the use of the ampersand, this set from Chris Jones and Co., is both a fabulous little introduction to one of bluegrass music’s most familiar personalities and a neat summation of where he has been.
With a daily six-hour block on SiriusXM’s Bluegrass Junction, Chris Jones has become a very well-known personality within bluegrass media; that he is actually a darn talented and insightful radio host is certainly a freakin’ bonus. This is the second compilation of Rebel recordings from Jones in a decade, and this will seem a bit mystifying to some readers especially as Jones has recorded only a single bluegrass album in the ten years since A Few Words.
Nitpicking aside, I’m sure there are very good reasons for the lack of output. If I were guessing- and I am- I would suggest that the daily grind of producing the radio show may hold back a bit the ‘full-time’ aspect of Jones’ bluegrass performing career. Then there was the ‘Americana’ excursion of Too Far Down the Road, Jones’ very strong album of the mid-aughts. The fact that Jones is a dedicated family man who has chosen to follow his wife Sally to her family’s northern Alberta home would also likely factor in to his small number of recordings since around 2000.
What I do know is that I wish Chris Jones & the Night Drivers were more prolific, because the 14 songs contained on Lost Souls & Free Spirits: The Rebel Collection Old & New simply sharpens the appetite for their solid bluegrass approach. Settling somewhere between tradition and innovation, Jones and his Night Drivers have created a country-pure approach to bluegrass music.
In addition to previously released tracks, Jones has elected to include three recent recordings with the current Night Drivers line-up. “Final Farewell” was released well ahead of the album and, after spending several weeks bouncing around on the Bluegrass Today chart, settled into the #1 spot for the March chart. “Waltz of Regret” originally appeared- with slightly fewer ‘grass touches than here- on Too Far Down the Road as did “A Hero in Harlan,” one of the strongest Tom T. and Dixie Hall songs.
The remaining songs are culled from Just a Drifter (two tunes), No One But You (also two), and the currently unavailable Follow Your Heart (four songs). Including three selections from the fairly recent Cloud of Dust album is a mite perplexing; I would have preferred additional songs from the past, perhaps “Fork in the Road,” a rarity such as “Diesel Smoke on Danger Road,” or another new track.
Still, many of Jones’ most enduring songs are included, some of which he wrote, more from outside sources, among them “Bridge to Portsmouth,” “Nashville Blues,” “Uphill Climb,” and “The Man on the Side of the Road.” As Jon Weisberger mentions in the notes, most of these songs remain in the Night Drivers’ live set, making the set ideal for the festival table.
Lost Souls & Free Spirits: The Rebel Collection Old & New is hardly essential. With most of the songs available on other Jones albums, it is most likely best purchased by those who do not already own Jones’ impressive back catalogue. Realizing I’m in the minority, I would have better enjoyed a reissue of Follow Your Heart (the one Jones album I can’t locate on my shelves) fattened by the three new recordings.
Still, there is nothing wrong with the set, and plenty right with it. In fact, these forty minutes of Chris Jones & the Night Drivers are mighty satisfying, much like their live performance.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald