Gospel, folk, bluegrass, country-influenced numbers, and a smattering of blues come together on the sixth release from Chris Jones and The Night Drivers. The outing for this long-established band of well-versed songwriters sets the bar higher than ever before for Jones and the band as they serve up a dozen songs in all and ten original compositions. In a genre invariably gazing backward, Chris Jones and The Night Drivers are looking forward and attempting to craft their own library of personal standards in an era when too many similarly themed groups wholeheartedly and unimaginatively embrace the past. The two covers on Made to Move never sound out of place juxtaposed against the ten band written tracks and give the album a handmade sincerity that many other efforts in this vein lack. Made to Move scores in a way few Americana themed albums ever do.
It starts making a good impression with the album’s first track. “All the Ways I’m Gone” mines some typical imagery from the bluegrass/country/blues songwriting traditions and puts them over with all the needed charisma to make them sound fresh once again. The bluegrass influence is clearly audible, but songs like this can be easily slotted under a variety of styles without much effort. The more introspective and personal side of the band’s songwriting emerges on “I’m a Wanderer”. While the band’s influences are rife and obvious, this feels like nothing less than pouring new wine into old bottles because of how the well the band’s songwriting gets over their distinctive point of view. “Dark Hollow” is one of the album’s two covers but illustrates the aforementioned point quite well. The Grateful Dead, among many other acts big and small, have turned out versions of this song over the years, but Jones and the Night Drivers own a small piece of this song now thanks to their surprisingly positive interpretation of this classic. Despite the lovesick and broken qualities of the lyric, Jones and the band keep the energy strong and the spirit light rather than dragging the listener down. There’s an affirmative quality to this release, as a whole, that will please many.
“Range Road 53” has some excellent vocal harmonies and scintillating instrumental breaks that show total mastery over the bluegrass style. It’s notable how the band can submerge their songs in rural imagery and never sound remote from any range of human experience; all of these elements are easily transposed thanks to the quality of the band’s songwriting. “You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me)” moves away from the bluegrass end of the spectrum and has a much stronger classic country feel thanks to the sly, melancholy wit driving the lyrics. Jones and the Night Drivers play it with a straight face, never indulging irony, and it ends up one of the real gems on this album. The band doesn’t frequently indulge their instrumental skills outside the confines of traditional songcraft, but the instrumental “Last Frost” is an ideal example of how Jones and the Night Drivers don’t always need a singer and lyrics. The wonderful melodies of this performance will linger with listeners. Made to Move finishes up with another instrumental, “What the Heck?!”, and the playfulness reflected in the title appears in the arrangement as well. It’s a breathless and brightly hued musical workout that brings this collection to a memorable close.
by Lydia Hillenburg