“Made to Move” by Chris Jones & the Night Drivers

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers
Made to Move
Mountain Home Music Company

4½ stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

I don’t suggest Made to Move is better than Chris Jones & the Night Drivers’ previous recording, the hit-laden collection Run Away Tonight. Indeed, it may not be. No, that future classic set a mighty high bar, and if Made to Move doesn’t exceed it, it certainly matches that recording as a set of original bluegrass that is superior to most.

The album kicks off with a healthy Chuck Berry vibe (“All the Ways I’m Gone”), that complements Jones’ confident “low-nsome” vocal canter. Before the song is out, we’ve heard memorable, stellar picking from not only Jones, but mandolinist Mark Stoffel and co-producer/Dobroist Tim Surrett.

And things just continue to get better with each passing song.

Newest Night Driver Gina Glowes’ vocal harmony contributions are noticed and appreciated, giving a new depth to the group’s well-established sound. Her 5-string chops are obvious throughout, but especially on more reflective pieces such as the already chart-topping “I’m A Wanderer” and “Living Without.” “Last Frost” is the album’s banjo instrumental, and it is a fully-developed musical landscape that the imaginative can read like a story. On this tune, bassist Jon Weisberger’s tone is notable.

Weisberger, who co-wrote half the songs on the album, is a formidable bass presence. He doesn’t impede by his presence, of course, but no one in bluegrass seems to be able to do exactly what he does—perhaps it is just a testament to the way the group records, but his bass rhythms are never experienced as an apparent afterthought.

With his bold, baritone voice, Jones is easy to listen to and his mild-mannered approach to a song allows him to connect with listeners in a way some vocalists never master. A story song such as “The Old Bell” pulls one into its history within seconds, while the ‘coming home’ “Range Road 53” appeals in a similar manner if with increased tempo. “Silent Goodbye” may remind listeners of a previous Jones-Weisberger co-write, “Final Farewell.”

Stoffel is known as a tasteful accompanist, and his contributions to songs including “Rainbows Fell” will have some listeners leaning in toward the speakers. His mando-laden “What the Heck?!” closes the set, and is a fitting way to wrap-up the album, one that is as fresh and sparkling as its coda.

Clowes’ approach to “Dark Hollow” is readily apparent and perhaps even innovative, but it is Stoffel’s notes that I gravitate toward. The Night Drivers present an interesting arrangement of the old warhorse, one that obviously sparked the band’s interest as they worked it up together. By modulating the tempo mid-song, the Night Drivers encourages one to re-engage with the oft-heard standard.

Finally, I know Jones has recorded albums without a Tom T. Hall song, but not often. Made to Move‘s offering is a gentle interpretation of the Johnny Rodriguez co-write “You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me),” a #1 from 1973.

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers are undoubtedly one of bluegrass music’s strongest instrumental bands. Each of the musicians is a master of their craft, and together they produce a style of bluegrass that is most likely unique. With Jones as their lead singer, they are blessed with one of the most recognizable vocal stylists the music offers. Will 2017 finally be the year that the band are recognized by the International Bluegrass Music Association when it comes time to complete ballots? One hopes so, because they truly have earned it.

Made to Move is another top-notch album from Chris Jones & the Night Drivers.