ALBUM REVIEW: Tim Stafford and Thomm Jutz Combine Forces to Bring Forward ‘Lost Voices’
Five years ago, Tim Stafford and Thomm Jutz — two world-class songwriters who each have been awarded the Songwriter of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association — got together to play and write. Out of that collaboration an album grew, one that weaves poignant tales of characters pulled from history and legend into lively bluegrass ramblers and languorously unfolding old-time blues, shedding light on the foibles and facets of the human condition. Stafford and Jutz are joined on Lost Voices by a stellar cast of musicians: Mark Fain on bass, Tammy Rogers on fiddle, Shawn Richardson on mandolin, Ron Block on banjo, and Dale Ann Bradley adding vocals.
An affectionate ode to trains, “The Queen and Crescent” — a train that once ran from Cincinnati to New Orleans — features shimmering rounds of finger-picked guitar and ringing harmonies that evoke the tender recollections of train travel in a bygone era; there’s a sonic resemblance to Lionel Cartwright’s evocations of a bygone radio era in “I Heard It All on My Radio.”
The supercharged “Take That Shot” darts, dashes, and tumbles headlong down the bluegrass trail, riding along scampering fiddles and jaunty banjo, guitar, and mandolin runs to spin a tale of the power of photographs — namechecking famous photos of Billy the Kid, Robert Johnson, Bill Monroe, and Marilyn Monroe.
The strolling, bluesy “The Blue Grays” tells the tale of the Elizabethton, Tennessee, Blue Grays, the semi-professional Negro league baseball team that “barnstormed all across the South” from 1935 to 1955, while Rogers’ fiddle creates a spaciousness on “The Ballad of Kinnie Wagner,” the story of an East Tennessee outlaw and murderer who nevertheless won the hearts of the locals as a kind of “Robin Hood,” performed with a mournfulness that conveys human ambivalence about good and evil. Bradley’s crystalline vocals lend “Callie Lou” emotional clarity and capture a scene from Appalachia with a soulful honesty.
The exquisite “Revolutionary Love” weaves clear, ringing finger-picked guitar with resounding harmonies, creating a lush, layered song that explores the simple, but difficult, teachings of Jesus about the power of love to change the world. The title track, which Stafford and Jutz wrote with Charley Stefl, is a quietly echoing tribute to the “lost voices” that still have much to teach us, if we will only listen to them: “Lost voices can’t be heard / until we set them free,” they sing.
Lost Voices showcases the sheer beauty of the work of two songwriters who capture in a song the heart and soul of people struggling with daily life but who also evoke elegantly the spirit of a time past that pulls on us, teaching us about our present condition.
Tim Stafford and Thomm Jutz’s Lost Voices is out Feb. 3 via Mountain Fever Music Group.