It takes only one listen to Make Each Second Last to know you’ve come home. It may be Chris Jones’ smooth, soothing baritone vocals, or it may be the exquisite sonic purity of the never-waste-a-note playing of mandolinist Mark Stoffel, bassist Marshall Wilborn, and banjo and ukulele player Grace Van’t Hof, but as soon as you hear these songs you’re cradled in the heart of vibrant and lush bluegrass music.
Stoffel’s crisp, playful mandolin runs open the jazz bluegrass number “Riding the Chief,” a crooning paean to the Southwest Chief, the train that runs between Chicago and Los Angeles. Fiddler David Johnson joins the band on this song, weaving in the spaces between Jones’ and Van’t Hof’s lead runs and Stoffel’s mandolin with a train-like rhythm that carries the song down the rails from the corner of Jackson and Canal (Chicago) to the land of enchantment (LA).
The album opens with the jubilant song “We Needed This Ride,” a ballad that blends elements of old time, bluegrass, and folk; Jones’ guitar down strums and fingerpicking playfully lead Stoffel’s brisk mandolin runs and Van’t Hof’s bright banjo runs in a whirling dance in the opening measure and in the instrumental bridges. The minor-chord verses ascend into jubilant major chords in the chorus as the song celebrates the healing that flying down the open road brings to a couple’s relationship.
Carley Arrowood’s plaintive fiddle weaves around Jones’ and Stoffel’s cascading chorus of guitar and mandolin on the poignant “Bed of Snow,” which Jones wrote with 2021 IBMA Songwriter of the Year Thomm Jutz, a frequent writing partner. Johnson’s shimmering pedal steel lends an aching poignance to the slowly unfurling “Quiet Click,” a Poco-like song about the end of a relationship. The Celtic-inflected “We Need to Hear from You,” written with Jon Weisberger, a former Night Driver and another of Jones’ frequent writing partners, develops in concentric circles of sound as it urges listeners to let their voices be heard: “There’s always risk in expressing / that which you know to be true / this is no season for silence / we need to hear from you.” The album closes with the rousing bluegrass gospel “They’re Lost Too.”
Chris Jones & the Night Drivers take their album title to heart, making each second last and each note matter on this stunning collection of songs.