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Published: 2012/01/29
by Marc Shapiro

Cris Jacobs Carries On After The Bridge

In the spring of 2011, Cris Jacobs was faced with having to find a new way to remain a professional musician. The singer and guitarist had been on the road with The Bridge for ten years, but the band was winding down, set to play its last show in November.

In a very natural, relaxed way, Jacobs soon assembled a ‘dream team’ of musicians to carry on.

Jake Leckie, an upright bassist Jacobs knows from his days of hosting an open mic at Baltimore’s 8×10, was moving back to the area from New York and wanted to play. Jacobs then tapped pedal steel player Dave Hadley, who he first encountered playing with singer-songwriter Caleb Stine.

“From note one, I was like ‘Wow, I gotta play with this guy,’” Jacobs said.

The trio had an immediate musical chemistry at its first rehearsals.

“We didn’t really have to talk about the music,” Leckie said. “We could just sort of start playing.”

But the band couldn’t contain itself. Jacobs wanted drums and harmony vocals, so he tapped Mike Gambone of The Bridge to play drums, and later, Ed Hough, who Jacobs has been playing with since he first picked up guitar at age 16. In addition to harmony vocals, Hough would play acoustic guitar and percussion. The Cris Jacobs Band now had its full arsenal, and it was a perfect fit for his songs.

“The sound is so natural for the way I write and the way I hear things and the sonic textures,” Jacobs said. “I don’t have to tell anybody what to play. It’s like ‘here’s my song, here’s the chords, I’ll play it and jump on it.’ And most of the time, it’s like ‘okay. That was perfect.’”

With the bluesy, singer-songwriter flavor of Jacobs, the thump of upright bass, textural twang of pedal steel, solid but subtle drumming and Hough supporting it in various ways, the Cris Jacobs Band is honing a diverse, but very defined sound. And it’s a sound that keeps each musician on his toes.

Leckie, who is used to playing acoustic music, jazz, chamber music and tango, finds that, for one, he has to play shorter, louder notes because of the venues the band plays.

“I find that my role is to provide sort of the traditional role of a bass during the more composed sections,” he said. “When we go into an improvisation, I’m feeling more and more like I can pull that foundation out from everybody and see what happens, and my playing can take more of a melodic, more of rhythmic role in improvised sections.”

Hough is used to fronting acoustic outfit Smooth Kentucky, a band he and Jacobs started in the early 2000s.

“It’s been a big eye-opener for me being a side man,” he said. “…I can just add to what makes the song better. It’s very challenging.”

Gambone finds that he has more space in this band than he did sometimes in The Bridge.

“The band innately lends itself to allow me to explore different things,” he said.

Although they feel challenged as musicians, the songs all come together in a very organic way, whether it’s in the writing process or on stage.

“We all listen and then you just fill the space that needs to be filled at the present moment. No more, no less,” said Hadley, who played pedal steel on The Bridge’s last album. “We’ve all kind of got free reign to come up with our parts.”

The band brought this organic approach to the studio in December, where they recorded nine tracks live in the studio. Other than a few overdubs, the music on the album will consist of the live sound.

“It shouldn’t have a contrived sound to it,” Gambone said. “It should be dirty, there should be mistakes…it should breathe and there should be room for interaction in just about every tune.”

The album is almost ready to be mixed, and Jacobs hopes to have it done within a couple of months. There’s no pressure since the band has no immediate plans to hit the road and Jacobs is managing the band himself. While the band wants to take the music as far as it can go, right now they are gigging primarily in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas.

“I think the music business is changing so much that artists are being forced to come up with new ways of maintaining careers,” Jacobs said. “…I don’t think buying a van and traveling as much as possible is the answer for us and a lot of people these days.”

Although they’re not hopping on tour immediately, it may be inevitable with such a tight musical unit and band members that can’t wait for the next show.

“Every gig we get better,” Hadley said, “and I can’t imagine what it’s gonna sound like a couple of years from now.”

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