Thomm Jutz - To Live In Two Worlds - Vol 1
Mountain Home Music Company
German-born Thomm Jutz is one of the most highly respected traditional country/Americana/bluegrass producers, musicians, songwriters and singers working in Nashville today. He moved to Music City almost 20 years ago following his muse and passion for country music. Not the kind of stuff you hear on mainstream country radio stations across the breadth of America, but as Chip Taylor succinctly wrote more than 40 years ago: ‘… I want to hear the Real Thing.’ Thomm doesn’t just want to hear the ‘Real Thing,’ he’s made it his lifelong ambition to recreate it, and this album, the first volume of a two-part set, is just the latest, and the finest, in his quest. A concept in the loosest terms, he offers a band song followed by a solo recording with just Thomm singing and playing at the same time, with each pair of songs connected thematically. He assures his listeners in his ability to write and interpret country music the way it was meant to be heard, evidently, all at once, as a backroads-country troubadour, a soulful gentleman bluegrass singer and a string-band leader altogether.
It’s a fascinating feat of fine songwriting and quality production work with a savvy and superb cast of players to help Thomm realise this exceptional effort—Mark Fain (bass), Tammy Rogers (fiddle and harmony vocals), Justin Moses (banjo, Dobro, harmony vocals) and Mike Compton (mandolin) plus guest vocalists and co-writers Milan Miller and Trey Hensley. The results do them all justice, but it’s Thomm’s relaxed and assured vocals that set the tone and establishes that feel of music from an older world, one which was burdened by everyday hardships, something he enhances with his wonderful weary drawl. Alongside yarns of ordinary folk given modern interpretations, he pays tribute to some of his musical heroes (many of which I share) including Charlie Poole, Jimmie Rodgers, Skip James, Blind Alfred Reed, John Hartford and British Folk Song collector Cecil Sharp.
Thomm has a catchy knack for telling real stories about real people as he sings about mill hands, river boats, freight trains, the old homestead and dear loved ones; gestures that paint scenes of life; anthems, waltzes and sweet melodies. Mill Town Blues cleverly updates the string-band styling of Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers occupying a space between Appalachian storytelling and driving bluegrass dexterity and coloured by pithy lyrical observation. Calling Me Home sounds like a long-lost Bill Monroe tune from the 1940s brought kicking and screaming into today’s bluegrass fold as it covers the age- old folk tradition of wherever you may travel in the world, deep down inside you’re never far from the old homeplace. Travelling and moving on has long played a dominant role in American music. It’s all part of the pioneering spirit that led to immigrants from Europe making the long journey to the ‘New Country’. With the rhythmic Moving Up, Moving On, it’s not just the travelling to new lands, but also to new opportunities that come with climbing up that ladder away from poverty and hardships to a richer and better life.
I’ve been a big fan of John Hartford for more than 50 years, ever since I bought his initial RCA albums back in the late 1960s, so Hartford’s Bend resonated with me immediately. With an instrumental background composed of softly plucked banjo, acoustic guitar, slinky mandolin, gently swaying fiddle and a solid-yet-relaxed rhythm section, this showcases Thomm’s ability to let his songs breathe and unfold in a manner that allows his unassuming vocals to shine. Further down the line The Old Road flows with banjo, guitar and fiddle in an upbeat setting of a gently travelling song that you’ll be humming along to after just one play, while Wilmer McClean, a co-write by Thomm and Trey Hensley, is a Civil War yarn with a happy outcome that features the pair of them vocalising over a polished instrumental bed. The jaunty Yesterday And Tomorrow leans more into an old-school country arrangement with catchy wry lyrics that are quite irresistible. I Long To Hear Them Testify is the sound of sin and salvation mixed in a forlorn longing to be back on the streets of Atlanta in the 1920s to see and hear the likes of Skip James, Blind McTell and Charlie Poole. Thomm’s weary emotional voice recaptures the struggle and re-imagines the blues from our collective Americana consciousness. Around the same time frame he revisits Cecil Sharp’s song-gathering trips to the Appalachians in the gorgeous Where The Bluebirds Call. The song circles the earth like the fading of seasons, from the varnished oranges and browns of fall to an untouched dusting of snow to the summer’s sharp graze as he paints a panoramic view of Sharp’s life and travels. Thomm’s voice and these solo acoustic songs are like a back-porch conversation with a great old long-lost friend. You can pick up right where you left off and it always feels right, that’s very much the way it is with both Blind Alfred Reed and Jimmie Rodgers Rode A Train. If you’re unfamiliar with these two pioneering musicians, then let Thomm Jutz enlighten you in an easy-going manner that is most appealing. They showcase his finger picking guitar, with eerie blues vocals and a sound that seems to carry his love of West Virginia blues as much as it does the country guitar style of acts like Merle Travis.
Thomm Jutz moves through the world and comes to his art at a pace and a pitch unlike most others. He knows what he wants to say and how to say it and he captures those natural abilities very well as he sits behind the board in the production chair. The subtleties are given front row seats; the slight ticking from the pick hitting nylon acoustic guitar strings and the between note breaths caught in the vocals. Thoughtful compositions that mix straightforward observation with naturalistic imagery and historical knowledge as he smooths out the Americana landscape with Appalachian touch points. This album has the compelling stories and great energy that I've come to rely on from this talented and prolific songwriter. Take the time to listen to this first volume whilst we wait patiently for the second one.