A conversation with Baltimore musician Cris Jacobs

By ARIELLA SHUA | April 4, 2019

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Ask Baltimore musician Cris Jacobs if he has a favorite song from his most recent album, Color Where You Are, and he’s unable to give a direct answer. 

“I can’t really say that I do,” he said. “Different songs have different emotional levels and different purposes.”

Listening to the album proves Jacobs’ point. The 10 songs on Color Where You Are all strike various emotions and have different rhythms to them. The songs don’t fall neatly into any one genre. According to his Facebook page, Jacobs’ primary genre is Americana soul, but the songs feel uncategorizable. There are elements of bluegrass, country and light rock in each — some emphasize one style more than the other, but all are a mix of styles.

Color Where You Are is Jacobs’ and his band members’ — Todd Herrington (bass), Dusty Ray Simmons (drums/percussion) and Jonathan Sloane (guitar) — self-produced venture. The band was coming off of Dust to Gold, Jacobs’ 2016 album, when they started the album. 

“We went into this one with no producer,” Jacobs said in a phone interview with The News-Letter. Because they had all worked together and toured together for months, Jacobs knew that the group could make the album on their own. 

“I was able to bring these songs that were raw and undeveloped to the guys, and I knew they would make magic with them,” he explained.

Jacobs has been in the music industry since 2001 when he started playing guitar and singing vocals with The Bridge, a Baltimore-based group, when he was 23. 

Jacobs toured with the band until he was 33, playing 200 shows a year. 

“That’s how I spent my 20s,” he said. “Riding around in a van with my friends playing shows.”

The Bridge had some success, but after 10 years the band wasn’t making waves the way that some members wanted. In 2011, after four albums, the group called it quits. 

“We’re still all super tight friends and get together all the time,” Jacobs said. “It just sort of ran the course that it ran.” 

Despite having stopped producing new music, The Bridge still makes sure to get everyone together a few times a year to perform.

While some members of The Bridge stopped working on music in favor of more “normal” lives, Jacobs continued releasing music. His first solo album, Songs for Cats and Dogs by the Cris Jacobs Band, came out in 2012.

By the time he released Dust to Gold, he dropped the “Band” part of the name and had an entirely different backing group. The same band members have stuck with Jacobs for his newest album — only guest keyboardist Daniel Clarke is new to the group.

Because he’s been performing with different people and has developed as an artist, Jacobs thinks that his current work is different than his previous ventures. 

When asked if he thought there was a change in the style of Dust to Gold and Color Where You Are, he said simply, “There should be.”

“The inspiration really comes from everywhere,” Jacobs said when explaining how his latest album came to be. But the largest change that led to the development of the album is that Jacobs is now married and has a child. “I get the inspiration from, this time around, my family, for sure. I have a 2-year-old daughter.”

Being married means that Jacobs has had to change the way he handles his career. Unlike his bachelor days with The Bridge, when none of the members had a family or children, he now has responsibilities to people who can’t travel with him.

Now Jacobs’ strategy is to try to work out a balance. He’ll tour for a while, spend some time at home and then hit the road again. He’s figuring out how to adjust as he goes: “It’s sort of a work in progress.” Beyond anything, he’s glad to have a supportive family behind him.

As a Baltimore native, Jacobs also had thoughts about his relation to the city he grew up in. He holds reverence for the city, even naming a song “Leaving Charm City,” on Dust to Gold.

“I think Baltimore just has a very deep-rooted sense of identity,” he said. “It’s a place with a lot of family roots and tradition.”

Unlike other cities, Jacobs feels that Baltimoreans care about each other and not about the “rat race” or social climbing. He notes that the connections people have with each other are important in Baltimore. It comes through in his work. He explained, “The connection to family and roots is kind of the thing that resonates in music.”

For the future, Jacobs confirmed that he’s not close to finished working on music. 

“I sort of turned that page as soon as this one was done,” he said of beginning a new album. “I try not to pat myself on the back too long for finishing something.” 

But as for what’s coming next, he’s not entirely sure. At the moment, Jacobs is just focused on formulating some basic ideas. 

“I try to make some initial noise and some sketches, meditate a little on it in my mind,” he said. “It’ll probably be different than anything I planned anyway.”

Color Where You Are will be released on April 12.

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