In a recording and performing career now stretching forty years, Chris Jones has become one of bluegrass music’s most recognizable voices, bandleaders, and personalities. His rich, melodic baritone is pleasingly distinctive, and via his leadership of the Night Drivers approaching thirty years he has played across North America and Europe. As an award-winning songwriter, humourist, and broadcaster, he has become a bluegrass ‘household’ name.
From last autumn, Make Each Second Last already had a number of chart-toppers released as singles by the time the disc hit the market. “Whither You Roam,” “Quiet Click,” and “We Needed this Ride” each received considerable, deserved attention upon initial release. A diverse selection—the first up tempo and devoted, the next pensive with resignation, the latter uplifting and affirming—these three Jones compositions provided formidable introduction to a strong album.
Additional singles co-written with Thomm Jutz, “Riding the Chief,” inspired by Jones’ youthful, summer train trips to visit his father in Albuquerque, and “Bed of Snow,” further bolster the recording. “Riding the Chief” is especially appealing; while personally not a big fan of the swing-influence on bluegrass, this number captures the sepia-toned and burgeoning independence of youth, whether traveling cross-country, or exploring rural, wooded hills and sloughs on foot and bike: the feeling is universal.
Additional highlights include “Leave It At the Gate,” a Jones/Jon Weisberger collaboration, and the instrumental “Groundhog’s Retreat,” a Jones/Mark Stoffel offering; if bluegrass radio allowed instrumental hits, this would be one. The album closes with the meditative and inspirational “They’re Lost Too,” the first collaboration I am aware of between Jones and the Night Drivers’ latest addition, banjoist Grace van’t Hof.
While the Night Drivers have experienced turnover these last several years, the sound of the group remains as strong as ever. Always presenting a smooth, mature, and restrained approach to bluegrass, veteran newcomers van’t Hof (banjo, baritone ukulele, and accordion) and Marshall Wilborn (bass) have slid into the group and their personalities most obviously blend with Jones (guitar) and Stoffel (mandolin). Jones takes all the vocal leads with his bandmates harmonizing. It truly feels like a group effort, down to the album’s artwork and design being credited to van’t Hof.
Jones’ spouse Sally and daughter Joanna provide harmony on “Silver City,” while Carley Arrowood fiddles on that song as well as “Bed of Snow.” David Johnston provides additional fiddle (“Riding the Chief”) and steel guitar (“Quiet Click”). One can hear and feel subtle drumming from Tony Creasman.
Within an album of perfection, the song “We Need to Hear from You” may contain the album’s most pointed and valued message. Co-written by Jones and Weisberger, the song is a welcome invitation to sensible, intellectual thought given the past few years, filled as they have been with rancor, alternative facts, and dis-information:
There is always risk in expressing
That which you know to be true
This is no season for silence
We need to hear from you.
Make Each Second Last is a thoroughly engaging album. Jones’ guitar playing is always brilliant—he has one of the steadiest and most under-acknowledged right hands in bluegrass, and never fails to provide perfect tone and rhythm to his songs. The Night Drivers never disappoint, and this latest recording is further evidence—if it was needed—that they remain one of bluegrass music’s finest outfits.