If the company we keep as artists is any pedigree of the breed of player and performer we are, well then Jordan Tice is a thoroughbred stallion. If you need proof then look no further than the latest record from the guitarist and songwriter “Horse County”. With pals and contemporaries such as Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers, Dave Rawlings Machine), Dominick Leslie (Deadly Gentlemen), Mike Witcher (Peter Rowan), Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers), and Brittany Haas (Crooked Still, Dave Rawlings Machine) along for the ride and Chris Eldridge of the Punch Brothers in the co-pilot seat producing and engineering the project, well, no further questions need to be asked.
Tice, typically taking a more instrumental approach to his recordings, lends his vocal to a handful of the 11 tracks on ‘Horse County’. A bountiful, pleasant and traditional sounding mix of John Hartford and Jerry Garcia, its almost transcendent…as this music tends to be and when it is expertly crafted and played, it seems to soar with expert musicality in a fashion that feels effortless and comfortable. The natural break in his vocal lets the light seep in, give you a little look into the heart he injects into the songs. That balance between the softness of a voice and the sheer intensity of hardcore pickin’, its a beautiful and exciting thing.
Of the bunch, favorites include “Poor Me”, “Way Downtown”, and the title track, a bluegrass-infused romp of an instrumental that throws solo duties back and forth like a hot potato. It really moves and the band…just wow.
I caught up with Jordan to talk about the new record, being able to call on a cast of characters like he did to record on a project, and his upcoming release tour which stops in at our favorite listening room in the world, Club Passim, on June 6th. You can go ahead and get your tickets RIGHT HERE. But in the meanwhile, read on up about the project, the artist, and whats coming down the track for Tice in 2016.
RLR: As a guitar player that balances lines between genres, do you find it hard to “describe your sound or influences”? I am sure you have the jazz lovers, the folk lovers, the bluegrass enthusiasts all coming to shows. How do you go about maintaining or fostering an aesthetic to your playing the kind of encompasses all of that?
JT: It’s not something I think about too consciously. I just try to use what I know to make the best music I can. I listen to a lot of different music just like most people alive right now and I’ve gone through a lot of educational phases over the years- jazz improv, flatpicking, fingerstyle blues, classical music, songs and fiddle tunes. All that informs my creative decisions but ultimately those decisions are made at the service of simply trying to come up with something that I think is interesting and engaging.
RLR:Festival season is weighing in upon us, do you have a favorite fest that you have played in the past? What makes that one (or few) so special for you?
JT: Actually discovered my new favorite festival this last weekend: The Strawberry Music Festival out in California. Really great lineup, beautiful location and the coolest audience to play for I’ve encountered anywhere. It’s very unique as a lot of the attendees have been going there with their families for decades and have fostered a very positive and very unique vibe that’s centered around a love of good music. It felt like I was meeting a massive family while I was there.
RLR:A big part of what RLR is all about is community. You also seem to be big into that with your projects like Haas Kowert Tice and this record seeing so many talented contemporaries included as session players and co-producing. It seems to run fairly strong in the bluegrass vein of the music landscape. How have you found those outlets throughout your career and where you have lived? Any thoughts on how it has made you grow as a player and as a performer?
JT: Music is almost completely intertwined with friendships for me. Friends are often people you like to do stuff with and I like to play and create music. Kinda like- “Oh hey, cool bike. You like to ride bikes? Me too. Let’s ride bikes then we can get freezie pops.” Then later while eating freezie pops post bike ride and looking at the night sky- “Look at all those stars” “Do you think we’re alone in the universe?” “Is there a god?”
That’s been the process for me. Just finding people that are interested in the same things and then going exploring together. I’ve learned so much and owe a great deal to my friends/collaborators. The education and inspiration I get from the constant feedback and musical energy of friends is very important to me.
RLR:You have a new record out this month called “Horse County”, where does this record take you sonically? How did the songs come about? In the video for “Poor Me” you and the other players are in a circle…almost like a table session without the table. Was the record primarily recorded int his fashion? Live and ‘in your face’. Do you find you strive in that live and in the moment method of playing and recording?
JT: The record is my first to feature original vocal songs as opposed to the all-instrumental content of my previous solo records. It’s kinda getting to the bowels of my musicality after the more lofty ambitions of the my last solo record “The Secret History” (2012) and the Haas Kowert Tice record “You Got This” (2014). Everything I love is on there in a pretty fundamental way- songs that are my own take on the conventions of American Popular Music and folk, instrumental fiddle tunes that are my take on the instrumental melodies of bluegrass, old-time, and celtic music. There’s even a solo-guitar blues/ragtime inspired art song type thing that kinda blends the ragtime and blues of Gary Davis and Blind Blake with the longer form, harmonically driven solo guitar music of Ralph Towner. I think the more direct nature of the songs came about with the idea of having some original music we could all rock out on. Something we could just set in motion then ride out as opposed to an advanced arrangement we need to prop up at all times.
When I originally started thinking about this record, I didn’t think it would contain songs, just tunes. A year ago, I had yet to finish my first song lyrics though I had a bunch of poems and ditties I had written. It was during the summer that I started writing songs and began to think that some of them might be decent enough to put on a record. I’ve always been primarily interested in songs, just took a little bit of elbow grease to crank a few of my own out as opposed to only instrumental tunes.
Chris Eldridge co-produced and engineered and we recorded it all live in a circle around a tree of mics. Most of the tracks are a single take and there are very few edits. There’s some scrappy stuff on there but I don’t care because I like to have a good time and I’m not an OCD, sad Nazi. All the music I really love- John Hartford, Bob Dylan, Norman Blake- is about energy. Sometimes perfect timing and intonation creates good energy. Sometimes not.
The record features Dominick Leslie on mandolin, Mike Witcher on dobro, Paul Kowert on bass, Brittany Haas and Shad Cobb on fiddle, and Noam Pikelny on banjo.
RLR:You are back to Club Passim on June 6. Passim holds a very special place in our heart as a spot that was once coveted to perform at, became a home for me as a songwriter and also as a curator. Its really a beautiful thing that it exists. What has been your history with the venue? Seems you are happy to get back to it when you roll through Cambridge.
JT: I love Passim. It is one of the greatest folk based institutions in the whole country. Matt Smith and all the staff run an amazing venue and keep improving it year after year too. I moved to Boston right after I graduated from college in Maryland in 2009 and Passim served as the primary outlet for my musical development during that very exciting time, first performing as a part of Campfire then doing my own shows. I love coming back to passim whenever I pass through. It always feels like a reunion of sorts and the post show Margarita hang at the border only sweetens the deal.
RLR: When it comes to Reels: St. Anne’s or Temperance?
JT: Depends on the day of the week. St. Annes is a more interesting tune but sometimes you just wanna shred some vibey licks and it’s temperance time!
RLR: Anything else you really want to plug about the new record?
JT: Come to Passim on June 6 to pick one up! Otherwise it will be available online by the end of the month. Keep in touch on facebook or at JordanTice.com for further developments!