Review: Chris Jones & The Night Drivers – Live At The Old Feed Store

It seems like you have two choices in forming a bluegrass band, the first is to not quit your day job, and the second is that if you do quit you’re going to need to get used to life on the road.

Given how many bands skip the first choice and hit the road, it’s amazing just how few live bluegrass albums are out there, in fact it’s rare to hear even a single live track mixed into a studio album.

I’ve always been partial to live albums regardless of the genre. Granted, you give up some of the studio polish, and most of the guest musicians, plus you only get one take at any given track on any given night, but you gain the crucial audience interaction and get to show what your band can actually do.

Now, you may know Chris Jones as the host of Bluegrass Junction on Sirius Radio, or you may know him for his Bluegrass Today blog, or you may even know him as the frontman (at least in name) of this band, but if you think The Night Drivers are just a backup band you have another thing coming. Actually, you have a LOT of things coming – good things! In addition to their superb traditional bluegrass/country playing, you can throw in the IBMA Songwriter of the year, some great humor, and add vocals as smooth and warm as a good bourbon to the mix.

The band is Chris Jones (Vocals, guitar, songwriting), John Weisberger (bass, 2012 IBMA Songwriter of the Year), Ned Luberecki (banjo, and yes, humor ), and Mark Stoffel (mandolin).

Live at the Feed Store follows up their 2012 song “Final Farewell” which became the bluegrass song with the most airplay for the entire year, and their 2013 album Lonely Comes Easy which placed five songs in the bluegrass top 20.

The new album opens with “Bound to Ride” – a banjo driven bluegrass stomp well rooted in traditional bluegrass. “Like a Hawk” leans a little more to the country ballad side of things. “Battle of the Bands” is a song done for a compilation album marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, this one tilts a bit to the folk side of bluegrass and will leave a lump in your throat. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” will take you through some traditional bluegrass gospel. “Cabin of Death,” well, what can I say – I do have a warped sense of humor, and apparently Ned Luberecki does too: it’s the only bluegrass song he’s written and he covered all the bases – everybody’s in the cabin, and like a lot of bluegrass somebody is dying – in this case everyone is dying.

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“One Door Away”

Since they manage to turn this into a sing-along with the audience there’s a lot more people out there besides me with a wicked sense of humor. “Edelweiss/Forked Deer” is another stroll down the traditional bluegrass lane, and “I Cried Myself Awake” is a rarely covered George Jones tune dating from Chris’ time with Special Consensus (back in the 80’s). The set closes out with the band ripping it up on “Pike County Breakdown.”

So you can see that while The Night Drivers are doing their part to uphold the traditional side of bluegrass/country there’s enough variety here to please everyone. If you love the tradition, and you love the drive of live music, you’re going to need this album on your play list.

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