Even in traditionally-based music, every band evolves. As the world of Bluegrass continues to widen its tent of what is and isn't accepted as part of the genre, it remains an artform that contains a traditional tenant next to one open to individual expression. With harmony between the two, Bluegrass has remained a perfect medium for songwriting. Chris Jones & The Night Drivers have taken advantage of this creative environment, becoming award-winning veterans at writing, performing and recording, with Jones being one of the foremost songwriters in Bluegrass - so much so, he has helped evolve the genre over the last several years by adding his deeply personal and original style to his music.
With their latest album, The Choosing Road, available March 29from Mountain Home Music Company, Jones and his bandmates and co-writers, Jon Weisberger on bass and vocals, Mark Stoffel on mandolin and vocals, and Gina Furtado on banjo and vocals, have found a sweet spot in their collaboration. It's the result of refined dynamics, themes informed by personal growth and some of the most intimate songwriting to date.
"I decided this time around to open up more with my writing, be a little more free and personal, and worry less about how songs would be perceived by different audiences, or how they'd be classified. I guess I made less of an effort to force songs into molds," Jones says. "A lot seemed to flow from there, and that in turn led the band members to come up with some fresh musical ideas as well. The result I think was music that's more distinctly 'us' than it's ever been."
"Bend in the Road," written by Jones and Weisberger, was this album's first single. Released in the Spring of 2018, the song raced to the top of the Bluegrass radio charts to land the #1 spot multiple months in a row. It sets the album's tone and speaks to the band's evolution with themes of change and progression and a sense of not being completely optimistic but hopeful and thoughtful. Jones adds, "The phrase 'Bend in the Road' really came from the Canadian children's classic 'Anne of Green Gables' because it was Anne's optimistic phrase about the future (I read a lot of it to my daughter when she was little), but I think some of the optimism of the song also came from our feelings about where we're at as a group.'"
Two songs in particular share a personal message: "I'll Watch Her Sail" written byJones and "Who You Want Me To Be," written by Jones and Furtado. The latter gained #1 success in radio in 2018. These works give poignant examples of their writers' need to be honest about how intimate relationships affect us and both were written under special circumstances.
Jones says, "We didn't know it at the time, but being caught in a massive snowstorm in Ireland was a blessing in disguise: almost a third of the songs on this album were either written or started there, including my own, 'I'll Watch Her Sail,' Gina's and my 'Who You Want Me to Be' and 'Bend in the Road,' which I wrote with Jon. 'I'll Watch Her Sail' was definitely inspired by the Irish surroundings (except for the reference to warm water)."
"Nyhan's Regret," the instrumental offering written by Stoffel and Furtado, was also a result of this unexpected diversion. "Mark and Gina's 'Nyhan's Regret' is dedicated to John Nyhan, a well-known bluegrass promoter in Ireland, and his 'regret' was about our tour being disrupted by weather," Jones says.
This song also includes renowned fiddler Liz Carroll. "Liz Carroll is one of my favorite fiddle players in any genre of music, and she's highly respected in the Irish music world, so I was so thrilled to be able to bring her in as a guest on that tune," Jones says.
Jones and Weisberger have been writing partners and musical collaborators for more than a decade. They've always co-written the bulk of the material on CJNDalbums, and The Choosing Road is no exception with the two offering 5 co-writes on the 12-song album. One is the upcoming single "Looking For the Bridge,"another composition about hopefulness in "bridging" strained relationships. "I'd say I've become a more melody-driven writer," adds Jones. "I like the melody to be able to stand on its own, even if there were no lyrics. In the case of 'Looking For the Bridge,' almost all the melody and the little signature lick came before any of the lyrics did. That's a first for me. Jon and I collaborated on the lyrics, and it's really about looking for some way to get back over a divide of time to get a romance back to how it was."
Weisberger comments on his writing partner's work on The Choosing Road saying, "With every album that we make, one song sticks the most in my mind - and even though I write a lot for the band, it's usually one of Chris's solo writes that turns out to be my favorite. Here it's 'I Shouldn't Even Be Here,' which to me is a kind of quintessential Chris Jones song; it offers a thoughtful look at an unusual story, delivered with a memorable melody and a fresh way of combining just a handful of simple chords to produce a lasting effect."
Although sometimes joined by special guests in recording or on stage, Chris Jones & The Night Drivers have remained a 4-piece unit for the last several recordings.Jones and Weisberger often comment about how the lineup for The Choosing Road has reached a special musical congruence.
"I think that the phrase 'deceptively simple' is one that applies to more and more of the Night Drivers' music," says Weisberger. "There's a lot going on, but it is always so focused on serving the song that it sounds really natural; Gina and Mark both have a way of using their instruments to accompany a vocal that, to me, is exactly right. I love the way they weave playing in unison with complementing and elaborating on each other's contributions. And the whole band has only gotten more intentional about variations in dynamics and kinds of energy in the course of playing each song as we've gone along."
Of all the paths they could go down with this new recording this one reflects struggle, freedom, and commentary on today's culture through meaningful songwriting and collaborative expression. On The Choosing Road, Chris Jones & The Night Drivers are visited by a new muse for a new era.
Pre-order The Choosing Road HERE.