With a resonant baritone voice that would be at home in country as easily as the straight-ahead bluegrass Chris Jones inhabits, a black cowboy hat wouldn’t be out of place atop his head. That would join a number of others--a songwriter’s sombrero, a radio host’s homburg, a guitar picker’s panama, a sideman’s stovepipe, or a bandleader’s beret, depending on the day’s assignment.
A hatter would be kept busy with Cloud of Dust, the latest album with his group, The Night Drivers, with eight of 14 songs written or co-written by Jones, who sings lead and plays guitar from top to bottom. He’s won IBMA awards in more than one category, including as a songwriter, and the imposing batch included here should provide not just listeners with pleasure, but other performers with fresh, distinctive material for their repertoire. The Night Drivers, a fine group, are Ned Luberecki (banjo, vocals), Jon Weisberger (bass, vocals), Mark Stoffel (mandolin) and Aaron Till (fiddle, vocals). The healthy guest list includes singers Darrin Vincent, Sally Jones, Shawn Lane, and fiddler/singer Jeremy Garrett, dobroist Mike Witcher, and fiddler Megan Lynch.
As the years have passed, a very slight hint of grit has only added to Jones’ full, expressive and tonally accurate pipes, especially affecting on the traditional gospel track, “Come On Little Children.” Other highlights include his beautifully dark-toned original, “What You Do,” the exuberant “Cloud of Dust,” and the waltzing, Jones/Weisberger cut, “Silent Goodbye.”
But there are no bland tracks to be found here. A nice bit of spice comes on the Jones/Luberecki instrumental, “Draw for 5,” giving the usual bluegrass banjo number a couple of subtle twists.
The album’s closing tune, “Bluegrass DJs,” speaks to Jones’ experience in radio, custom-made for broadcasters in need of that elusive track that fills out only a minute or so to avoid dead air or deadlier banter. And with that, Jones tips his hats as he bids us a very fond farewell. (GSM Records, [no street address] <chrisjonesmusic.com>) DR