MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. Every day in Nashville, hundreds of musicians sign timecards and put in nine-hour days in recording studios for whoever is paying the bill. Just as surely as accounting or bricklaying, making commercial music is still work, hard work, which is why most pros spend some of their off-hours playing with bands that remind them why they started playing music in the first place. Craig Havighurst of member station WPLN has this profile of one such band, The Time Jumpers.

CRAIG HAVIGHURST: The Station Inn in Nashville, likely the most famous bluegrass club in the world. Its neon beer signs illuminate vintage posters for shows by the likes of Ralph Stanley, The Osborne Brothers, and Mac Wiseman. But on Mondays for the past 10 years, the club has sounded more like Texas than Tennessee.

(Soundbite of music)

HAVIGHURST: If this were Texas, the floor would fill with two-steppers. But Nashville audiences are more inclined to close listening, so close that the front row could reach out and touch the lizard skin boots on fiddler, Kenny Sears.

Mr. KENNY SEARS (Fiddler and Vocalist; The Time Jumpers): There's 11 of us on a stage that should accommodate five or six. ..TEXT: HAVIGHURST: Sears, a sideman for classic country artists such as Mel Tillis and Ray Price, says during his typical live gigs, he is on giant stages far apart from his fellow musicians. The Time Jumpers, he says, draw their energy from intimacy.

Mr. SEARS: Even when we play the Opry on a big stage, we bunch up together in the middle like a bluegrass band, because it's just much more fun to play that way.

(Soundbite of music)

HAVIGHURST: The Grand Ole Opry is where The Time Jumpers were born. Band members and Opry stars passed time between sets playing Western swing tunes in Dressing Room 6. A tentative Monday-night residency at the Station Inn took root, and a more formalized lineup started looking forward to the shows as the highlight of their week.

Mr. JOE SPIVEY (Recording Studio Owner; Fiddler, The Time Jumpers): If you look at the way our business is now, the so-called country music business, we're about as anti-that as you can get.

HAVIGHURST: Joe Spivey, a recording-studio owner and a member of the three-man fiddle section, says The Time Jumpers draw a crowd that values the group's attentiveness to one another and to genuine musicianship.

Mr. SPIVEY: That's one of the most joyful things about this band, everybody is so conscientious. I mean, you'll notice when somebody's playing solos, everybody's doing whatever they can do to make that soloist sound as good as they can.

(Soundbite of music)

HAVIGHURST: Those musicians are about as good as they come. Bass player Dennis Crouch just finished a tour with Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Paul Franklin is the most recorded pedal-steel guitarist working today. And seated in back strumming a big arch-topped rhythm guitar the way Freddie Green used to for Count Basie's orchestra is none other than Ranger Doug Green, frontman of the Grammy-winning cowboy band, Riders in the Sky.

Mr. RANGER DOUG GREEN (Frontman, Riders in the Sky; Guitarist, The Time Jumpers): This is my therapy, my relaxation. This is when I get together with the people I really like and play music I really love. And I don't have to front the band, and I don't have to remember jokes and make up the set list and drive 500 miles. I just get to show up and play with people I respect enormously. And it's just inspiring.

(Soundbite of music)

HAVIGHURST: The lines between country music and jazz were blurry decades ago, when Bob Wills and Spade Cooley built the Western swing sound around fiddles, guitars, and driving big band rhythm sections. In Nashville, such session pickers and producers as Hank Garland, Chet Atkins, and Owen Bradley were jazz men when not making hillbilly records. So The Time Jumpers aren't out to break new ground. They are just an increasingly rare example of a band dedicated to group interpretation of classic American songs.

(Soundbite of song "Honeysuckle Rose")

Ms. CAROLINE MARTIN (Vocalist, The Time Jumpers): (Singing) Now, I don't buy sugar, You just need to touch my cup, You're my sugar, And it's oh, so sweet when you stir it up. When I'm takin' sips, From your tasty lips, It seems the honey fairly drips. You're confection, Goodness knows. You're my honeysuckle rose.

HAVIGHURST: That's Caroline Martin. She says the Western swing repertoire and its focus on improvisation is something she appreciates from having grown up in Texas.

Ms. MARTIN: You have the freedom to go out on a limb just like the musicians do. And you know that they're going to be right behind you, that nobody's going to let you drop. It's heaven for a vocalist. It's a perfect situation.

HAVIGHURST: Martin shares lead vocal duties with Dawn Sears, wife of Kenny, the fiddle player. Dawn discovered what's become her signature song when she was a recording artist in the 1990s. Her two record labels never would let her cut "Sweet Memories" by Mickey Newbury. But her performance of the ballad earned the band one of two Grammy nominations last year. ..TEXT: (Soundbite of song "Sweet Memories")

Ms. DAWN SEARS (Vocalist, The Time Jumpers): My world is like a river, As dark as it is deep. Night after night the past rolls in, And it gathers all my sleep.

HAVIGHURST: That recording proved bittersweet because it captured one of the last performances by the band's longtime steel guitarist John Hughey. A veteran sideman for Conway Twitty, Vince Gill, and Loretta Lynn, Hughey died just after the live CD and DVD were released. His protege, Paul Franklin, a veteran of hundreds of hit album recording sessions, stepped in.

Mr. PAUL FRANKLIN (Steel Pedal Guitarist, The Time Jumpers): They could have anybody in this band. I don't think there's a steel guitarist in town that wouldn't jump at this gig. So, I was very honored, you know, that they asked me in. And for me, it's such a step away from what I do on a day-to-day basis. Like today, I just did a project that was more like Matchbox Twenty, you know, than country. And then to come down here, it's just such a nice change of pace.

HAVIGHURST: The Station Inn audience doesn't hold back. They cajole the players and ring the bell by the bar for a particularly good performance.

(Soundbite of music)

HAVIGHURST: Some are old enough to have lived through the golden age of Western swing, but there are also college students who sing along with songs decades older than themselves. Celebrity musicians Robert Plant, Norah Jones, Jack White, and Bonnie Raitt have all gone out of their way to catch a Time Jumpers show.

Mr. ANDY REISS (Lead Guitarist, The Time Jumpers): To me, the beauty of music is the unspoken communication.

HAVIGHURST: Lead guitarist Andy Reiss says the band's aim is not a retro experience or a revival of Western swing. Rather, they see the genre as an ideal vehicle for exploring a state of pure creative communion.

Mr. REISS: When your ears are wide open, your heart's wide open. You're not even really thinking. You're listening. You're part of something, and everybody is doing that. When that happens, it's pure magic. And as a musician yourself, you know how rare that is.

HAVIGHURST: For these 11 musicians, at least it's no more rare than once a week. For NPR News, I'm Craig Havighurst in Nashville.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: And you can hear more music from the Time Jumpers at nprmusic.org.

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