John Driskell Hopkins met Zac Brown while hosting an open mic night in Atlanta in 2004. A year later, Hopkins became an original member of the Zac Brown Band, playing bass and being a part of the group’s now-signature and powerful harmony vocals. Since then, the outfit has gone on to be arena headliners and to win many honors, including a Grammy Award for Best Country Album in 2013.
About a year ago, Hopkins, a fan of bluegrass and gospel, decided to go forward with a solo album that would explore his love of roots music. One day, he was listening to satellite radio and heard the sounds of the western North Carolina bluegrass group Balsam Range. Without knowing of the band previously, he sought out Balsam Range to ask them to back him up on his new solo album called Daylight.
The end result is a wonderfully-inspired collection of new Hopkins-penned songs that are eclectic, upbeat, different, and entertaining. Balsam Range features Darren Nicholson, Tim Surrett, Buddy Melton, Marc Pruett, and Caleb Smith.
The album begins with “Runaway Train,” a fiery Appalachian-funky cut that kicks off with some earthy riffs by Jerry Douglas on resonator guitar. It’s followed by Hopkins imitating the sound of an out-of-control locomotive running the rails through some steep mountains. Other guests featured on the album are Brown, Tony Trischka, Joey & Rory, Levi Lowrey, and Richard Foulk. Highlights include the cautionary tale of “The Devil Lives In A Mason Jar,” the smoking “Shady Bald Breakdown,” and the country-swing turned bluegrass-romp “The Grass Don’t Get No Greener.” This project is unusual, in the best of ways, and is simply big fun. (www.johndriskellhopkins.com.)DH