By Larry Stephens
It’s not often you hear an orchestra playing classic country music but, at ten members strong, the Time Jumpers comes close. The group’s roster is as impressive as it gets: Vince Gill and “Ranger Doug” Green (vocals, guitar); Andy Reiss (electic guitar); Brad Albin (upright bass); Kenny Sears and Joe Spivey (fiddle, vocals); Larry Franklin (fiddle); Jeff Taylor (accordion, piano, vocals); Paul Franklin (steel guitar) and Billy Thomas (drums, vocals).
This CD is dedicated to their late eleventh member, Dawn Sears (wife of Kenny) who passed away in 2014.
Dawn Sears toured as a harmony singer for Gill for an incredible 22 years. She was able to record on two of the tracks on this CD before illness took her voice away. The late Freddy Powers penned and recorded “My San Antonio Rose.” The Time Jumpers don’t stray too far from the original with Dawn Sears nailing her share of the lead. This version of “Rose” is also Western swing and is all about love but it’s distinct from the Bob Wills’ song. This was intended to be a solo for her but she wasn’t happy with some of the lines. By this time she was too ill to go back into the studio, so her husband sang those lines for her making the cut a duet. If you like western swing you’ll love this version with three fiddles (Sears, Spivey and Franklin), twin electric guitar (Gill and Reiss), drums, accordion, archtop and steel guitars plus accordion and bass. No thump, thump, thump drums, sound byte guitar breaks or, I’m sure, performers making hand signs like rappers when they’re live.
The other song Sears is heard on was recorded by Gill for an album but never used. He re–worked some of the lyrics and re–recorded the music to change the perspective of the song after she passed away.
The title track, composed and sung by Gill, is an ode to Sears and has become the band’s official song. It’s a heartbreaker and Gill is one of the best singing heartbreakers.. The steel guitar is so well suited for sad songs and Franklin provides perfect support for Gill’s lead as do the triple fiddles.
In case you’ve forgotten, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys appeared in a number of westerns. “I Hear You Talkin'” (composed by Cindy Walker) was in Wyoming Hurricane. The Jumpers’ version (Spivey singing lead) is slower but features great instrumental breaks and interplay between the singers. “Empty Rooms” comes from Green and is enough to make me freeze in my tracks. What a great shuffle beat song this is. The shuffle beat song is at the apex of my list of song types I love. Franklin nails it on the steel and the fiddle players have it exactly right while Green sings it with great style. Kenny Sears composed and sings another excellent shuffle beat song, “This Heartache.”
Speaking of Franklin, he composed “”All Aboard” and my hat is off to Albin playing that walking beat on the bass. This number flies along and is a challenge to all of the players. Like Reiss on his guitar break, they take it in stride. Switching to country blues they give us “Blue Highway Blue” with Billy Thomas singing a sultry lead and the band teasing us along behind him.
There’s not a bad track on this CD. Whether it’s honky tonk (“Honky Tonkin'”) or tearjerker (“Table For Two”) this talented group of musicians and singers always hit the mark. If you love classic country you need this CD – I know I’m going to play it until the CD wears out.