Cris Jacobs, former frontman for the Baltimore-based group, the Bridge, and collaborator with Ivan Neville this past fall on Neville Jacobs, is releasing his third solo album, Color Where You Are. Jacobs is one of those triple threats– singer, songwriter and guitarist– blessed with a deep, soulful voice and able to traverse several genres. Along the way, he has impressed Steve Winwood, who invited Jacobs to open his 2014 tour. Sturgill Simpson followed suit a year later. Following those dizzying tours and his highly acclaimed 2106 Dust to Gold, Jacobs got married, became a dad, and found that multi-tasking has become a necessary part of life.
The title nods to Jacobs’ experience writing the album. Said another way, it means seize the moment or make the most of available time. As he says, he had to do it, “between tours, coming home, changing diapers, fixing things around the house….You name it.” This pressure brought a new kind of deeper focus to concentrate on people and aspects of the world and its events that he cared most about. The opening track, the single “Painted Roads” is emblematic of this approach as Jacobs feels we sometimes get so goal-driven and success-oriented that we don’t stop to appreciate the beauty and details in daily living.
“Painted Roads” was one of the first songs Jacobs and the band (who co-produced the album together) with his bandmates 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). Booking the studio for a set time put Jacobs under severe time pressure, but his organic approach worked. Themes of the family man creep in as does his outlook on social and political issues. You hear the latter in “Afterglow” and “Under the Big Top”.
On “Afterglow,” Jacobs searches for optimism and healing amidst these divisive times. His emotional vocal is buoyed by a passionate, swelling performance from the band, making it a standout track. Crunchy riffs and a fat bass groove drive “‘Under the Big Top,” a commentary on society’s evolution into gullible, easily distracted, lazy-mindedness. Thematically it plays like Will Hoge’s recent commentary on Trump in ”Oh Mr. Barnum” from My American Dream. Jacobs says rather than finding 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.”
Jacobs was also clearly influenced by his work with Neville, finding some of his funkiest grooves on “Rooster Coop.” “All I knew was that I wanted to write a song that merged country and funk,” Jacobs says of “Rooster 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.” On the other hand, the gentle country swirl of “Buffalo Girl” evokes bands like Buffalo Springfield and Poco.
The carefree “Holler and Hum” with its engaging chorus will lend itself well to live shows. Jacobs’ vocal glides gently over the yearning “Ghosts of Evangeline” while the ebullient “Night Birds” brings back that swampy bayou feel, punctuated by slide guitar and swirling B3. The closing epic ballad “Hold Close These Things” speaks to Jacobs’ affection for his family. It’s not only his most emotive vocal performance, absolutely soaring in the chorus, sheer love achingly delivered. It’s one of the best songs he’s ever done.
Yes, it’s an eclectic record with a rich sound and plenty of strong, thoughtful moments, all with an underpinning of expressive guitar work and palpable band chemistry. Jacobs has all the ingredients – a voice like Chris Stapleton, a gift for songwriting, and a mature outlook. His star should be rising even more rapidly. This is another step forward.