The Austin-based duo of long-time friends Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance are the driving force behind Jamestown Revival who deliver their third album, San Isabel, named for the location of the remote cabin studio where the album was recorded overlooking the San Isabel National Forest in Buena Vista, CO. As you listen to the breathtaking harmonies and clear, uncluttered instrumentation, you can practically feel the crisp air, the faint scent of the evergreens, and, when closing your eyes, envision the majestic setting.
The group purposely retreated to a location away from the buzz of the internet and social media to let the music breathe freely. The results indicate that they accomplished their mission quite well. Elements of that approach reveal themselves in the opening, banjo-driven “Crazy World (Judgement Day).” “This Too Shall Pass” has already been released as a single and is indicative of the bright harmonies and melodic grooves that populate the album.
Melding old school folk, contemporary Americana and elements of early pop, the disc has ten new originals written by Clay and Chance with a cover of what we may call a “harmony standard” in the Mama and Papas’ “California Dreaming” that they just knock out of the park, practically stamping it as their own. As you listen, echoes of Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and even John Denver surface occasionally. In addition to Clay (vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, harmonica, banjo, steel guitar, bass), Chance (vocals, acoustic guitar), and producer Jamie Melford (Nathaniel Rateliff, Gregory Alan Isakov)(juno, acoustic guitar, banjo, background vocals); the supporting band features Nick Bearden (bass), Ed Benrock (drums, percussion, background vocals), Psyche Dunkhouse (cello), John Gringsby (bass), Dan Reckard (keys)and Rachel Siler (violin, viola).
When deciding the kind of record they wanted to write, they centered it on harmonies, which the call the “third man,” in that it makes the song complete. Mostly it’s Clay on the lead vocal with Chance on high harmony but every so often Clay’s baritone forms an undercurrent of harmony to Chance’s tenor lead. They’re never trying to sing over one another or make one voice louder. It’s about making the right blend, a concept they call a ‘team sport,” likening it to baseball or basketball – the sum of all parts. Chance says, “This record is different than our previous two and it definitely has more of an ethereal thing. The heads and tails of the songs are longer, so it really is creating a trace. We love records that you can drive to, and hopefully, this is one that you can take a road trip to. Jamie really helped bring that out. We would record and get the essentials whether it be an acoustic guitar or electric guitar. Then we would add what we started calling ‘celestial seasonings’ where we would do these tracks with an ethereal vibe, which became an undercurrent throughout the record.” Listen to “Who Hung the Moon” which is a prime ethereal example.
The band name may indicate to some that they are from Virginia but, instead, Clay and Chance grew up in a small town in Texas and now reside in Austin. The name combines a historical reference with one of their favorite bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival, signaling a new era. While it is way too hyperbolic to assign “new era” terminology to their sound, they do bring one of the most gorgeous sounding albums heard in a long time. Play the entire album. Every track is a standout. You’ll never tire of their harmonies. Soak them in. They may revive you spiritually in a way that a shower refreshes you physically.