Andrea Zonn remembers the first time she met Alison Krauss. She was ten and Alison was eight and the two were introduced at the Champaign Festival in Illinois. Growing up, the two tried to pick apart Emmylou Harris and Little River Band records.
“We’ve gotten in a lot of trouble over the years,” Zonn said with a sly laugh during her visit to the Buddy & Jim Show on Sirius XM Outlaw Country. On a day when Miller was recovering from a lack of sleep following a trip to San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Zonn came in to play songs from her new album Rise. It was released in late September on the independent label Compass Records which is owned and operated by Alison Brown and her husband. Zonn was accompanied on the show by guitarist and collaborator Thomm Jutz.
Miller recalled being in his car on a Friday night years ago listening to the Grand Ole Opry and hearing the most beautiful fiddle solo. He committed himself to finding who it was and discovered it to be Andrea Zonn. The musician began her career playing with Vince Gill around the time his first album on MCA was coming out and he was on his way up. On Rise, he duets with her on “Crazy If You Let It.” For the past year, she has worked with singer-songwriter James Taylor. When Taylor’s tour ended, Zonn got ready to record her new album.
“When the boss takes time to write and make an album,” she said, “that leaves time for the rest of us to do the same.”
The infectiously hummable “You Make Me Whole” features the subtle but always unmistakable presence of Taylor and his longtime tandem of drummer Steve Gadd and bassist Willie Weeks. Zonn speaks glowingly of Taylor with whom she harmonizes and says as a singer is never late – but never in a hurry to get to the next beat, always allowing for space and breadth in his songs. Zonn’s homespun fiddle accents are part of Taylor’s sound as evidenced in a song called “Today Today.”
One of the album’s most striking songs is called “Ships” featuring singer Trace Adkins. Adkins recorded a Celtic Christmas album and asked Zonn to tour with him. Zonn says he loves Celtic music and that she was really taken aback by hearing him sing.
Zonn was joined in Miller’s studio by guitarist Thomm Jutz who she met two and a half years ago at a show by Peter Cooper. Zonn got Jutz a gig with Maura O’Connell and then Zonn approached him about making a record. Jutz agreed and blocked out ten days right after the New Year. During the first week Kim Richey came over and sat with the two around the kitchen table drinking coffee that fueled the songwriting. Zonn and Jutz ended up co-writing seven of the album’s songs.
Jutz related a valuable lesson he learned from Cooper who relayed what Tom T. Hall once told him—namely that in songwriting the person in the song has to come first and the songwriter second.
“I think without talking, that’s what really happened,” Jutz summarized of his collaboration with Zonn. She added: “There are people we make music with who are kindred spirits.”
Zonn and Jutz co-wrote a song with Cooper called “Another Swing and a Miss,” what she calls a little baseball love song. The swing song uses baseball analogies to describe the ups and downs of love with her lyrical fiddle evoking the motions of love’s struggles.
On “No Reason To Feel Good,” Zonn’s soulful singing is anchored by her funky fiddle and the rhythmic groove created by Gadd and Weeks. “Another Side of Home” written with Thomm and Bill Lloyd, opens the album and showcases Zonn’s gorgeous and soulful soprano. Zonn’s fiddle plays off Jutz’s guitar and vocal fills. The song began with a conversation about the hard events in life and how there can be a paradigm shift, especially when love is involved. Home might be a place where you keep your stuff, Zonn reflects, but is transformed to become much more because of love.
Jutz recorded his own album with Craig Market which began with a cold call. “I said you have no idea who I am but I’d like to work with you,” Jutz recounted about how he was able to talk Market into making a record.
“He’s not into having a career,” he added, noting that Market writes songs, works on houses and plays and buys old guitars. “He likes to fly under the radar.”
Jim Lauderdale was very excited about Zonn’s performance on the weekly show Music City Roots when she performed Rise, aided by guests Keb Mo, Vince Gill and others.
Zonn was equally effusive with her praise for Lauderdale as a songwriter. She remarked about his ability to write on the spot. “He’s like a lyrical savant.” Miller calls Lauderdale “fearless” and credits him for learning how to make records. Lauderdale has a reputation for coming to sessions without finished songs.
Miller recalled how one time Lauderdale booked a session at a studio in Southern California on an old movie lot once used by Roy Rogers near Joshua Tree. Lauderdale could be seen walking around a nearby motel mouthing phrases and sounds that he would later share with the studio musicians to turn into licks.
It’s a habit that has served him well over the years, but is surely not something for everyone.
(This article originally appeared in For The Country Record.)