Irish songwriter Thomm Jutz, who transplanted himself to Nashville and became immersed in stories of the American Civil War, has released a second album in his epic series. Tracing the roles of Irish immigrants in this defining and dividing era of our national history, Jutz, has, if anything, surpassed the high standards he set with Volume One.
Jutz takes the listener on a twisting journey over 21 songs, co-written with an impressive array of collaborators from the worlds of bluegrass, country, Celtic, and Americana music, including Chris Jones, David Olney, Pat Alger, Verlon Thompson, and Jon Weisberger. The characters, many drawn from history, are poignantly given voice by the likes of Jim Rooney, Steve Gulley, Sierra Hull, and many more from both sides of the water, including many of the aforementioned songwriters. The album opens with Maura O’Connell wrapping her lovely voice around “The American Wake,” a bittersweet song of parting touched with the keening instrumental support of Jerry Douglas. Another of the many highlights is Connie Smith’s plaintive rendering of “Old Beret Road,” as a lost soldier is recalled through the mists of memory.
There are as many touches of Irish music and some contemporary instrumentation here as there are of bluegrass, if not more, so purists be forewarned. And an occasional song might have only a peripheral Irish connection or let historical facts eclipse the human element. But a number like Craig Market’s “The Old Songs” epitomizes how well these themes of longing amid conflict can be captured in a bluegrass song. The stories here reflect not just the American story via Irish eyes, but also present a vision of the sprawling conflict in ways that give both historical context and personal losses. The 1861 Project is truly an album in the classic sense of the word. This is a comprehensive and moving mosaic in which all its component parts combine to give as deep an insight into a complex and troubled time as words and music can do. (Cohesion Arts, P.O. Box 210294, Nashville, TN 37221, www.cohesionarts.com.)HK