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The Graham Album Review #2147

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Tim Stafford & Thomm Jutz: Lost Voices

(Mountain Fever Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/22/2023)

While the folk-singer-songwriter genre essentially celebrates the individual compositions of solo artists, the Nashville music scene seems to thrive on collaborations. It often can bring a new perspective, though at other times, it could be interpreted as trying to evoke a little star power to the credits of an album.

This week, we have a kind of classic Nashville songwriting collaboration between artists who have had their respective individual careers, but whose joint work proves to be outstanding. It’s the duo of Tim Stafford and Thomm Jutz, with a bluegrass-influenced album called Lost Voices.

Tim Stafford is a Nashville-based guitarist and songwriter who was part of Alison Krauss and Union Station, has been active as a studio musician, and has also released a couple of solo albums, including an instrumental guitar recording. He is also an author, co-writing the authorized biography of bluegrass guitar great Tony Rice.

Thomm Jutz, was raised in the Black Forest area of Germany, and was studying classical music, but became enamored with American country and roots, and made up his mind to move to the US, going through an immigration lottery. He settled in Nashville, where he has run a studio, and performed with the late Nanci Griffith, plus Mary Gauthier, Kim Richey and others. His songwriting has won him the 2021 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Songwriter of the Year award. He has also released a joint album with singer-songwriter Tammy Rogers. John Prine recorded one of his songs, as has Nanci Griffith, the Steeldrivers and others. He also serves as lecturer of songwriting at Belmont University in Nashville.

Stafford and Jutz have become friends over the years and have written together occasionally. But when COVID hit, the two two began collaborating via video conference, and by the middle of 2022 had written 60 songs together.

The new album Lost Voices, seems to be a distillation of the best of those songs. Every one is a gem, with lyrics that often come from the pages of history, with interesting characters like outlaws, the black baseball teams in the days of segregation, the Navajo code talkers of World War II, and an elegant passenger train from the past.

The instrumentation is all acoustic, with frequent bluegrass influence, but there are also some songs delivered in a more folk-oriented style with just their two guitars. The 14 songs on the album are also models of pithiness, managing to tell their story in depth in two or three minutes.

The backing musicians include bluegrass stalwart Ron Block on banjo, with Mark Fain on bass, and Tammy Rogers on fiddle.

Opening is a piece that epitomizes the sound of the album. The song is called Take That Shot and it was inspired by rare photographs of historical figures, in this case Billy the Kid and bluesman Robert Johnson. <<>>

With a more intimate setting with the two guitars is Enough to Keep You Going for a While a song about optimism about the human condition through an encounter by two very different people. <<>>

One of the highlights of the album is The Blue Grays about a Tennessee-based black baseball team who played “barnstorming” games from the 1930s through the 1950s, in the days of segregation. <<>>

Back in the bluegrass mode is another song about a historical figure, The Ballad of Kinnie Wagner about a long-running fugitive from the law who had a reputation as a kind of Robin Hood character. <<>>

The pandemic was the inspiration for the song The Wild Atlantic Way in which on a trip to Europe to tour, Thomm Jutz became stranded in a what he describes as a “gorgeous” town in County Cork Ireland at the start of the lockdown. <<>>

Another outstanding song with historical lyrics is Code Talker about the Navajo tribesmen who were employed during World War II to relay messages in a code based on their language, a code that was never broken by the Japanese, even though previously, they had been discouraged from speaking in Navajo while growing up. <<>>

Also from Native American history is a song called The Standing People about the respect that the Cherokee had for trees, which they called “the standing people.” <<>>

And with a lot of songs taken from the pages of American history, Stafford and Jutz celebrate a passenger train that ran from Cincinnati to New Orleans, The Queen and the Crescent, romanticizing the days of elegant rail travel. <<>>

Tim Stafford and Thomm Jutz’ new album Lost Voices is a gem of exceptionally fine songs, nicely done in a classy but informal sounding acoustic setting. Every one of the fourteen tracks is a textbook example of songwriting craftsmanship, with great lyrics, often telling interesting and poignant stories in three minutes or so. Stafford and Jutz said they wrote by collaborating remotely, penning some 60 songs during the pandemic. So they had a lot of material to pick from. The result is a delight.

Our grade for sound quality is an “A” with the acoustic instrumentation given a pleasing, authentic, warm and intimate sound, that’s thoroughly appropriate for the music.

The Nashville music scene has given rise to a lot of songwriting collaborations. Tim Stafford and Thomm Jutz show that it can lead to some really good results.

(c) Copyright 2023 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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This page last updated February 26, 2023