The Best Band You've Never Heard Of

     “This is one of the best bands I’ve ever seen,” I whispered to Margie as we watched the Time Jumpers, an 11-piece ensemble that you’ve probably never heard. Much of the crowd at the concert in Kingston, New York, were attracted to the show by the top-line billing of one of the band’s two lead guitarists-- country star Vince Gill-- but the real attraction was hearing the cream of Nashville session players who for years have spent their Monday nights playing a repertoire of western swing and country chestnuts at a club in their hometown, Third and Lindsley.

     Listening to the band’s multiple singers and murderer’s row of soloists make such successful Americana acts as Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers sound like relative amateurs, strummers instead of pickers. Decades of seasoning informs this most accomplished ensemble, who signal musical cues with a glance of an eye, and can make new songs sound like vintage hits.  At the heart of the group is a three-man string section led by the band’s amiable emcee, Kenny Sears; the trio are all accomplished soloists, but also cohere for sublime ensemble work. Pianist Jeff Taylor also flavors the music with accordion, while Gill and Andy Reiss played guitar solos that touch upon country, blues, and jazz. Paul Franklin’s virtuosic steel guitar provides the icing on the cake. Gill and Franklin (plus other Time Jumpers) recently collaborated on Bakersfield, a celebration of the West Coast country sound personified by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. The Kingston show featured one of the collection’s highlights, Owens’s “Together Again.”

     The Time Jumpers don’t pretend to be trendy; instead, they’re keepers of a tradition. “I think there’s a way to do something new that feels timeless,” Gill told the Washington Post. “Put on a Beatles record and it sounds fricking great today. A Ray Charles record? Sounds amazing. The things that really last are the things that aren’t completely stamped with all of the trappings of a fad. To me, that’s how you move forward. Create new music that feels old.”      

     Gill’s presence in the Time Jumpers is problematic when the group strays from its home base in Nashville; in Kingston, some customers grumbled that Gill sang no more or less than the other vocalists in the ensemble (including Dawn Sears, whose harmonies have long accompanied the country star). Dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a flannel shirt over a Time Jumpers T-shirt, Gill could have been mistaken for the guy next door, if your neighbor happens to be a world-class singer and guitarist. The truth is that despite all the awards and records sold, Gill saw the writing on the wall when he wrote 2003’s “Young Man’s Town,” and brought his friend Emmylou Harris into the studio to add a harmony. When he sang the song on the annual CMA awards, Gill was joined by his daughter Jenny.

     Gill hardly hung up his guitar, and in 2006 released These Days, an ambitious 4-CD set that collected original songs that ranged from honky-tonk to ballads, rock, and bluegrass and featured duets with artists ranging from Bonnie Raitt and Diana Krall to Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark. Gill also maintained his status as a working musician quick to play and sing on another artist’s recording session (he recently produced Like a Rose by Ashley Monroe, who is also a member of the Pistol Annies), and is quick to pay heartfelt tribute to the giants of country music (Gill’s most viewed YouTube clip captures him breaking down during a nonetheless stirring performance at the recent memorial for George Jones).

     Truth be told, I didn’t get hip to Gill until his 1998 album, The Key, as I favored edgier country-oriented artists like Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam. By then, Gill’s mainstream popularity was beginning to wane, and The Key was his virtuosic tribute to the classic country styles that had been his original inspiration. The reason why he’s now happy to strap on his Gibson and play with the best-unknown band in America was captured in that album’s closing number, “The Key to Life.”  

2 responses
John, on page 66 of Crossroads, you mentioned a party at Steve Miller's dads house that T-bone Walker played at. I have a copy of that recording. If you don't have it, I would be happy to send you a copy. It's exceptional, T-bone playing some jazz standards. Very good quality. Thanks I am enjoying the book. All the best. Greg gjd 🍸 > On Nov 26, 2013, at 1:27 PM, "Posthaven Posts" wrote: >
Hey Greg...Thanks for the comment. Glad you're digging the book. I'd love to hear that most rare recording-- drop me a line at and I'll send along my address. All the best...John