Posted on Sep 10, 2012 in Featured, News | 4 comments
Peter Cooper – The Tennessean
Why is this working?
Since 1998, two handfuls of veteran Nashville musicians have banded together every Monday night on a club stage, playing antique country sounds that haven’t been commercially popular in more than 60 years.
They do western swing, jazz, ballads and blues, and they call themselves The Time Jumpers. (That’s what I call them, too.)
They use no video and no choreography, and they have no songs about trucks, fields, skinny dipping, tailgating on trucks or the country pride that results from having tailgated on trucks in fields near lakes prior to skinny dipping.
Every one of them is old enough to be Taylor Swift’s mom or dad, and some could be her granddad. Not that Swift’s lineage is in question … just trying to paint the picture here, dear reader.
In recent years, they have added a big-time star in Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill. But with The Time Jumpers, Gill spends most of his time playing artfully restrained guitar, rather than, say, singing the big hit country songs that drew millions of fans to him.
The rest of The Time Jumpers — excepting “Grand Ole Opry” regular “Ranger Doug” Green of beloved western group Riders in the Sky — are revered by studio musicians and weirdo music fans obsessed with liner notes (admission time: guilty), but little known to the general public.
The Time Jumpers never went out of style. They were, as Lady Gaga would surely attest were she here right now, born that way.
“You could take this band and put them in the ’70s or ’80s or ’90s, or even the ’60s, and it wouldn’t sound like what country music was at the time,” Gill says.
Exactly. This stuff has absolutely nothing to do with anything that’s making popular waves.
And yet, somehow, it’s now in style. The Time Jumpers have twice been nominated for Grammy Awards. They’ve been forced to move from their longtime home at The Station Inn to the newly renovated 3rd & Lindsley, because their every Monday Station Inn show was sold out, and fans were lining up for tickets at 4 p.m. for a 9 p.m. show.
And their new, self-titled album is coming out Tuesday, Sept. 11, not as a local independent effort but as a featured release on nationally prominent Rounder Records.
“Isn’t it neat?” asks Gill, who, like other bandmates, tends to view himself as a Time Jumpers fan and a Time Jumpers member, in equal measure.
I’ll concede that it’s neat. But that doesn’t mean it’s not outlandish. The idea for this band would survive in a Music Row committee meeting for roughly a nanosecond longer than it’d take for someone to voice it.
There are too many players for anyone to get rich doing this, and if there was any market research that proved the commercial viability of this kind of music, you’d hear a lot more yodeling on the radio.
Did I mention they yodel?
“This started out so that the players could do the things they loved,” says Time Jumper Dawn Sears, whose lovely voice is among the band’s calling cards. “It wasn’t to please the audience, it was to please the band. We really just play for each other, and it’s been great that everybody else has connected with it. I’ve had a couple of country record deals, and I’ve been told, ‘You’re too country to sell.’ So it’s great to see how people are gobbling up this music.”
Legends’ play time
So why is this working? Perhaps because when some of the greatest musicians in the world get together to amuse each other, it’s bound to amuse some of the rest of us. And because this particular band of players and singers performs complex-but-accessible songs in a heart-first way that can forge emotional connections with listeners who care little about technical proficiency.
And also because The Time Jumpers, many of whom play sweet money studio sessions on Music Row during the day, need an outlet to express their musicality. Steel guitar great Paul Franklin, for instance, can play just about anything his fertile mind conceives, yet he gets little freedom to stretch on radio singles, because new-century commercial music is short on instrumental flights (particularly for the steel and the fiddle). But with The Time Jumpers, he is free to use the entirety of his expansive musical vocabulary, just as his Steel Drivers predecessor, John Hughey, did.
Hughey was Gill’s steel player for 12 years, and he played one of the instrument’s most memorable solos in modern times on Gill’s “Look at Us” single. He died in 2007, at age 73. His wife, Jean, still collects admission fees at the door during Time Jumpers gigs.
“For John to be in this band, it was profound to me,” said guitar master and Time Jumper Andy Reiss. “To be accepted as an equal by a legend like that is a great experience. He brought so much emotion and so much happiness to every note he played. You couldn’t watch him play a solo without either crying or dropping your jaw, and sometimes both.”
Any given Time Jumpers evening can have its share of jaw-dropping moments, and the propensity of unannounced guests dropping by offers the constant possibility of surprise. Reba McEntire, Bonnie Raitt, Ronnie Milsap, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris and dozens of others have come by to perform with the Jumpers.
The Time Jumpers album could have been filled with guest turns, but it’s not. (See, another death wish-ey commercial decision.) Instead of gathering their all-star pals, the 11 members convened at Gill’s home studio and performed 12 songs that serve as pristine examples of the band at its best. The recordings were done live, with the musicians sitting in a circle, playing in real time without the usual preponderance of overdubs and multiple takes.
“I really believe in the quality of what we’re doing,” Reiss says. “If I just walked into the room at 3rd & Lindsley and had never heard this band, it would amaze me. And it does amaze me: Every time I hear Dawn Sears sing, it raises the hairs on the back of my neck.”
Sure, me, too. But, c’mon. Why is this working?
My favorite group in all of MUSIC..love me some Dawn Sears..(Puddles)..
Got my CD today……thank you for sharing your love of music with us! LOVE the CD.
Best $15 you'll ever spend. Monday nights, 3rd& Lindsley.
What a great night at 3rd and Lindsley for the album release party… thanks to Rounder for sponsoring the WSM broadcast…. two great sets of music capped of by Eddie Stubbs playing a fiddle instrumental and Vince singing "Together Again"…. one of those nights you wouldn't have missed for anything.
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