Chris Jones & The Night Drivers – Made to Move
Made to Move pays tribute to the present and past alike. Chris Jones and The Night Drivers have a laudable commitment to pushing their own original material and it has an uniformly high level that many other bands and artists working in this field lack. However, Jones and the Night Drivers have no qualms at all with tackling traditional standards in such a way that they claim a piece of those songs for themselves without overlaying them with some tacky, overwrought surface that only weighs them down at someone else’s expense. These aren’t songs requiring over indulged production touches to get over – the audience admires them for either their aesthetic or emotional beauty and that’s where things end. This release is firmly lodged in the Americana tradition, particularly in regards to its bluegrass influences, but it’s reach extends much further – instead, Made to Move’s dozen songs are astutely composed and selected to touch the broadest of possible audiences.
No matter the historical context of Jones’ and his collaborators inhabit, this is music built around melodies. This fact alone transcends petty concerns about style. Songs like the opener “All the Ways I’m Gone” cast a long melodic shadow landing on anyone who truly enjoys hummable melodies regardless of the instruments used to arrive at that point. There’s a fair amount of playful humor mixed in with the rueful lyrics and Jones’ exceptional delivery makes all things possible. “I’m a Wanderer” has a far more inward-looking quality and this pensive side of the band’s songwriting has an evocative interpreter in Jones – he hits all the right emotional notes, often sounding quite elegiac, but never over-wrought. “Dark Hollow” is an excellent recasting of a long traditional bluegrass/folk standard. Jones and the Night Drivers give the song an exemplary treatment that preserves its authenticity while still imbuing it with an ebullient character sure to appeal to many. The heartbreak has a slightly muted effect on the song “Raindrops Fell”, but Jones and the Night Drivers deal with subtle turns with artistry that few likeminded outfits possess. Nothing here is self-indulgent or clumsily overstated. The sadness powering the lyrical content of “Living Without” is considerably smoothed out by Jones’ level-headed vocal delivery and the musically irrepressible arrangement.
“You Always Come Back (To Hurt Me Again)” culls its sound from a classic country pedigree that the band obviously feels quite comfortable with. Jones’ voice makes great use of a strong country music lyric, customarily witty, and never plays it for laughs in any way. “Sleeping Through the Storm” is the most overtly gospel-influenced track on Made to Move, but it doesn’t trumpet those influences. It makes the most use of them, instead, during the call and response chorus and the touch remains light even then. The album’s last song with lyrics, “The Old Bell”, is completely informed by the folky side of the band’s artistic vision and unfolds at a perfect place. The storytelling strengths of this particular track stand out among a track listing full of stand out moments. Made to Move represents a new high in the career of Chris Jones and the Night Drivers thanks to their wide-ranging command of the style and an increasing depth of artistry few performing units today can match.
9 out of 10 stars