Unplugged Revival: Jamestown Revival at Belly Up
Jamestown Revival release third pandemic project and hit the road
Nobody can accuse Jamestown Revival of letting the long homebound months of the coronavirus pandemic go to waste. The Texas-based Americana duo has made and released three albums since the virus hit in spring 2020.
The latest and most ambitious of this trio of projects, “Young Man,” was released in mid-January and has launched the band on a winter tour that includes a four-date Colorado run with stops in Denver, Telluride and Fort Collins before culminating in a sold-out Belly Up Aspen show on Sunday.
“Young Man,” the band’s first all-acoustic effort, follows a pair of admirable quarantine-bred records: the home-recorded “Field Guide to Loneliness,” made early in lockdown period and written separately before recorded in a pod, and the May 2021 concept EP “Fireside with Louis L’Amour,” adapting short stories from the Western bard into minimalist songs.
On top of those, they wrote enough to record the 10-track “Young Man.”
“That was what was so great about this time, because what else are we going to do?” Jamestown’s Zach Chance said last week in a phone interview from a tour stop in Southern California. “I think we made a real effort to just create as much as we could.”
Now that they’re finally back on the road, the writing pace has slowed. But Chance said they have enough tracks in progress that they can make another two albums in the next year (in addition to their stage musical adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” long delayed by the pandemic).
“We just want to keep running with it and see where it goes,” Chance said.
Jamestown teamed with the singer-songwriter Robert Ellis — another young Texan who is pushing the Americana tradition into the 21st century — to produce “Young Man. They met at the Out on the Weekend festival in Australia in 2015, at which Ellis performed with Dawes and served as a sort of festival music director. They’d loosely kept in touch.
And last year when Chance and bandmate Jonathan Clay wanted to record a new collection of songs, they did their usual DIY approach — setting up in an open-air barn in Huntsville, Alabama. This time, though, it wasn’t working.
“The vibe was amazing,” Chance recalled. “Unfortunately, the songs just didn’t work out. And so we knew we wanted to try a different approach with them.”
So, they reached out to Ellis and set up at Niles City Sound in Fort Worth, Texas. Collaborating with Ellis, they hit on an earthy all-acoustic approach for the new compositions, broke down and restructured some songs and co-wrote one original (the bittersweet ballad “Old Man Looking Back”).
“It was really nice to have him at the wheel,” Chance said of working with Ellis.
The album’s quieter, unplugged sound came naturally out of early song sessions. Chance recalled sitting around a kitchen and running through potential songs with Ellis and Clay, working out their signature dual harmonies, Chance recalled.
The sparse and simple approach of those run-throughs felt good, so they stuck with it.
They’d been listening to old Doobie Brothers records, Chance recalled, and marveling at the all-acoustic marvel of “Blackwater.”
“So, somebody threw out the idea, ‘What if we don’t use any electric guitars?’” Chance recalled. “We all just said, ‘Yeah, let’s run with it.’”
“Young Man” is not quite a concept album, but the songs are thematically linked. They’re concerned with memory and nostalgia, aging and change and the passage of time. Songs like the title track — which has an a capella section that rivals “Blackwater” in its folk pop perfection — and “These Days” and “Old Man Looking Back” are clearly from the same song cycle and hint at a larger storyline about dialogues between generations.
They didn’t set out to make a concept record, Chance said, but the of the pandemic, the existential questions it foisted on all of us, and the long shutdown of the live music industry created a forced period of self-reflection for the duo: “Not being able to tour and sort of assessing our lives and careers, and just being home, Jon becoming a parent, watching our folks get older, all those things — it just kind of came out of that.”
Once these themes emerged, Jamestown pushed deeper in exploring them, building toward “Old Man Looking Back,” which ended up being the final song they wrote for the project and a capstone of the ideas it explores.
“At some point, it was like, ‘Oh, there’s there is like a theme here, there’s a common thread, let’s lean on that a little bit,” Chance said.
At recent tour stops, Jamestown has been playing the entire “Young Man” album top to bottom at the beginning of the show and then capping it with select songs from the rest of its catalog. They’re touring with the band they recorded “Yong Man” with, including Ellis himself and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fiddler Ross Holmes, so they want to keep playing them all.
“It seems like the audience is taken to it. For us on stage, it’s like this really cool experience for all of us,” Chance said, adding with a laugh: “So, maybe it’s just selfish.”