Cris Jacobs Band + Midnight North
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Cris Jacobs Band
When Cris Jacobs began dreaming about a follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2016 album Dust to Gold, he realized early on he'd have to do things differently this time around. His life had changed drastically since writing those songs: he'd toured extensively and attracted a legion of new, devoted fans; he'd come off the road into a world, with its divisive rhetoric and troubling headlines, he no longer recognized; and, most importantly, he'd gotten married and had his first child. Things had changed, and Jacobs had, too.
Color Where You Are is the work of an artist at an exciting new stage in his life and career, ready to use his talents to share a little beauty with the loved ones and fans who have already given so much to him. The title nods to Jacobs' experience writing the album, which, as he puts it, he had to do "between tours, coming home, changing diapers, fixing things around the house.... You name it." He no longer had the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike, so he colored where he was.
"It was a new discipline for me and a new level of focus that I think brought out the best work," he explains. "I feel like I grew up a little bit. There are people in my life who I truly care about and things in the world I feel deeply about. That really pushed me in a stronger direction and forced me to feel things on an honest level."
Opening track "Painted Roads," with its soulful groove and clever arrangement, is the perfect encapsulation of just how far Jacobs has come since releasing Dust to Gold. Jacobs is self-assured and confident in his soulful, infectious vocal, while his lyrical craftsmanship shows Jacobs to be a thoughtful songwriter who continuously strives to grow and evolve.
"It's about choosing to live in the present, and see the everyday details of the world, rather than postponing living or paying attention in hopes of some distant prize or destination," Jacobs says of "Painted Roads." "We get so caught up in 'success' and ambition, and are so goal-oriented, that we sometimes lose sight of the beauty in the everyday. 'Color where you are' is the notion of creating beauty now, no matter the circumstance."
"Painted Roads" was one of the first songs Jacobs and the band (who co-produced the album together) recorded for Color Where You Are, with his band mates taking Jacobs' original Tom Petty-inspired arrangement and giving it an off-kilter, syncopated groove. For the first time, Jacobs wrote the bulk of the album's songs in the studio, camping out at Richmond's Montrose Studios to flesh out "germs and ideas that had been floating around" with band members Todd Herrington (bass), Dusty Ray Simmons (drums/percussion) and Jonathan Sloane (guitar).
"I booked the studio time and put a gun to my head and that sometimes works," Jacobs says. "In this case it did. It feels like a specific time period and specific vibe and emotional space that came through in all of these songs. It was a really organic process."
While life as a family man changed Jacobs' perspective (and schedule), current events also had a profound impact on Jacobs' songwriting, with commentary on social and political issues finding its way into tracks like "Afterglow" and "Under the Big Top." Color Where You Are is a hopeful affair, though, with Jacobs employing thoughtful criticism and messages of empowerment instead of wallowing or ruminating.
"The political climate is causing a different sort of energy and angst in me that’s never been there before," he explains. "It’s not a political album by any means, but those forces out there certainly dictated a lot of the writing on this record."
On "Afterglow," Jacobs searches for optimism and healing in trying times. His emotional vocal is buoyed by a passionate, swelling performance from the band, making the track one of Color Where You Are's most poignant moments. "It's about the hope that after the storm we are currently trying to survive in, we will see true light like never before," Jacobs says. "That the constant threats to our foundations will cause us to examine and strengthen them, and come out the other side with stronger hearts and clearer vision. 'There will come horses, there will come voices' -- that we will be forced to show our true hand like never before because of our dire need to defend it."
Elsewhere, on "Under the Big Top," Jacobs channels swampy, gritty rock influences to shine a light on narrow-mindedness and lazy thinking. Crunchy riffs and a fat bass groove make the track, despite its heady message, one of the album's many songs you can't help but move to.
"'Under the Big Top' is commentary on society’s evolution into gullible, easily distracted, lazy-mindedness," Jacobs says. “'Pretty lights junkie like a moth to candle,' always distracted by the brightest, loudest, biggest, rather than remembering how to seek for ourselves and find truth and love. We instead over-consume and are given every opportunity to do so. What we end up with is a circus of sorts, with tricksters and hucksters and loud mouths with no real value taking up all of our attention and ruling us, because we are too easily manipulated."
Grooves abound on Color Where You Are, as on standout track "Rooster Coop," which finds Jacobs and the band sniffing around the henhouse over greasy slide guitar, a deep, deep pocket and a truly funky bass line. "All I knew was that I wanted to write a song that merged country and funk," Jacobs says of "Roostr Coop." "We started out with the main groove of the tune and the first line that popped into my head was, 'There’s something funky in the barnyard.' So naturally, I wrote a song about a scandalous love tryst amongst farm animals."
Spanning rock, folk, soul and funk and drawing from inspiration that runs the gamut from the henhouse to the White House, Color Where You Are is a kaleidoscopic portrait of Cris Jacobs as a songwriter, musician and bandleader. It's the work of a devoted father and an empathetic member of the human race. More than that, it's a reminder that there's beauty to be found everywhere, if you just take a moment to color where you are.
"What am I trying to do with my music?" Jacobs muses. "The simple answer is this: I’m trying to connect with people. To express real-life human emotions and make people feel things. To connect my love of music with my love of writing and conjure up all of the joy and emotions that those things bring to me. To hopefully have people walk away feeling lighter or happier or more inspired to go do something after listening... I want to create a body of work that my family will be proud of one day, and to show that I had compassion to the human condition and wasn’t just a self-indulgent show off."
Midnight North ft. Grahame Lesh
It’s full steam ahead for Midnight North after an exciting year featuring major festival plays, a nationwide tour, and the release of a second live record. Midnight North headlined tours and played in support of heavy-hitters such as Grammy winners The Infamous Stringdusters. Rolling Stone hailed Midnight North as the “Best New Act” in its review of 2018’s Peach Music Festival saying the band “takes the best parts of roots music and weaves them into a tapestry of rock and Americana”. And the best is still to come.
In the summer of 2018, Midnight North released their second live record, Selections from the Great American Music Hall. This 8 track album features original live staples like “Everyday” and “Playing a Poor Hand Well”, covers like John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” and the Dead’s “The Music Never Stopped”. The concert album also features guest appearances by Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, members of Twiddle, and the band's hometown horn section, The Northbound Horns.
Immediately after their sophomore studio release, 2015’s Scarlet Skies, Midnight North - fronted by lead songwriters Elliott Peck & Grahame Lesh with lush Hammond B3 organ, and harmony work from Alex Jordan, and strong rhythm section work from bass player Connor O’Sullivan and drummer Nathan Graham - began touring the country in earnest, visiting the East Coast and the Midwest for the first time in Summer 2015. The band wrote the majority of 2017’s Under the Lights in the following months, and the lyrical road themes - the initial excitement, the longing for home, and the inherent need to keep moving - shine through. “Under the Lights is the perfect title for this collection of songs,” said O’Sullivan. “These songs and lyrics are about being a band of musicians on the road away from home. Songs literally performed and tested under the lights at countless venues across the US.”
2019 and beyond will continue the growth for Midnight North, as the expanding discography and consistent national touring help pave the way for more and more fans to discover the band. “These songs tell our story, at least up to this point,” said Lesh. “Our job is to sing you these stories as honestly as we can and transport you into our world for an hour or two.”
I'm Grahame Lesh. I play guitar and sing for Midnight North + Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, and I play bass for the Capitol Sun Rays. Tickets on sale now for Cris Jacobs Band + Midnight North ft. Grahame Lesh at The Ardmore Music Hall on November 7th, 2019!
The Ardmore Music Hall
23 East Lancaster Ave
Ardmore, PA, 19003