To hear Vince Gill tell it, the members of The Time Jumpers may not have stars in their eyes, but they have plenty of swinging songs in their hearts.
Western swing songs, that is.
“You know what the cool thing is? This is a band of people that have done this their whole lives. This is a band that we don't have stars in our eyes; this is something we're doing because we love it. And it's really neat. It's a neat project, it's a neat band,” the Oklahoma native said in a recent phone interview from his home in Nashville, Tenn.
“It's full of great musicians that just want to play great music. Do we want to get on a bus and go tour and have hits? Probably not. And is that gonna happen? Probably not. So, it's really a win-win for us. You know, we're having a ball.”
In an era when electric guitar odes to pickup trucks and singalong party anthems dominate mainstream country radio, The Time Jumpers are making music in the spirit of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Released Tuesday, the 11-piece Western swing band's self-titled album also dabbles in other classic genres, from the smoky jazz torch song “Faint of Heart" to the bouncy cowboy song “Ridin' on the Rio.”
There's even yodeling.
“It's an unbelievably talented bunch of musicians, so it's a big step up for me musically to play with a band of this caliber and to play the music that I kind of grew up on back home,” Gill said.
For instance, Paul Franklin, whom Gill calls “arguably the best steel guitar player in the country these days,” earned a Country Music Association Award nomination last week for musician of the year, while singer/acoustic rhythm guitarist “Ranger Doug” Green fronts the Grammy-winning band Riders in the Sky.
“Everybody in this band has something that they do regular for their living for the most part. This is the kind of thing that's born out of the love of the music,” said Gill, who is playing a benefit show Sunday at his alma mater, Northwest Classen High School, and headlining next month's Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in Guthrie.
The Time Jumpers started out in Nashville in 1998 as an assemblage of stellar studio musicians who just wanted to play together. Since Monday evenings were the slowest of the week at the Station Inn bluegrass club, they were able to nab a weekly gig then and there. Earlier this year, the Western swing outfit made the leap to the much larger 3rd & Lindsley nightclub to accommodate the crowds clamoring to see their Monday night shows.
Gill officially joined the group in 2010, and the ensemble recorded its new album in his home studio. The follow-up to its 2007 Grammy-nominated live album “Jumpin' Time,” “The Time Jumpers” is the group's first studio effort and Rounder Records debut.
He and his cohorts didn't want to simply cover old Wills tunes, but they tried to craft timeless songs in that vein.
“Like ‘New Star Over Texas' is a new song, but it sounds like it could've been written and recorded in the year of ‘Faded Love' when it first came out. And that to me is the point is you can write new songs that really embody the spirit of that time,” Gill said. “We love Western swing, we love Bob Wills, we love really great old country songs like Ray Price shuffles.
“That's to me the biggest difference these days with what country music has become and is in its most commercial and current state is none of those feels that happen on any of the new records are steeped very much in an old tradition. They're totally different-feeling records. That's not a knock on 'em. They're just different that's all,” he added.
Most modern mainstream country artists make music rooted in 1970s Southern rock or ‘80s arena rock sounds rather than the old-school country traditions he loves.
“It is what it is, and power to ‘em. They're doing what they love. They're doing what their calling is, and you can't begrudge anybody for being musical in the way that speaks to them. It may not be your cup of tea — it's not mine — but I still cheer 'em on,” he said.
Still, Gill would really cheer to see The Time Jumpers become an unlikely mainstream success.
“It'd be really neat to see something like that happen for these guys. They've all been the sidemen for the most part in their whole careers, and this is a real chance for them to have their voice and have it be their way and have them be the focal point. It's really neat to watch.”
It's full of great musicians that just want to play great music. Do we want to get on a bus and go tour and have hits? Probably not. And is that gonna happen? Probably not. So, it's really a win-win for us. You know, we're having a ball.”