There’s something about a love for bluegrass music that also tends to draw those with a love and appreciation for history. And there’s something about history that is heightened by an outsider’s perspective.
This intriguing project is the creation of songwriter Thomm Jutz, whose current role as touring guitarist for Nanci Griffith belies his roots growing up in southern Germany. His dedication to delving through American history developed both from a distance, so to speak, and from his current dwelling in Tennessee. A fixation on the Civil War eventually led to this collection of 17 songs written with numerous collaborators, including Stan Webb, Irene Kelley, Mark Fain, and Jon Weisberger. These pieces were then crafted in a variety of bluegrass, folk, and Americana settings, drawing on vocalists such as Paul Brewster, Marty Stuart, John Anderson, Chris Jones, Dana Cooper, and several more.
Variety is indeed the key word here, because somehow Jutz manages to keep himself out of the way of the stories he tells and instead lets the poignancy and humanity of his songs’ characters take center stage. The album uses an impressive array of perspectives: a lover left behind (“Old Before Our Time”); an Irish immigrant conscripted into battle (“Eyes”); a dying soldier (“Soldier’s Dream”); a witness to surrender (“Greater Gentlemen”); or a disenchanted veteran trying to make sense of it all (“Southland”). Jutz and his cohorts assemble an impressively rich and diverse mosaic of a time when the character of America was cracked open and its humanity was fully exposed.
Given that this is labeled as only volume one, we can only hope that Jutz continues to mine the deep veins of this era for more musical and personal stories that reveal much about who we are now from those who suffered before us. (Cohesion Arts, 2809 Blair Blvd., Nashville, TN 37212, www.1861project.com.) HK