Jordan Tice is a singular voice on the American roots music scene. Over the last ten years, he has developed a reputation as a unique and versatile guitarist and prolific composer of some of the most thoughtful and well-crafted tunes of his generation. Jordan has a voice and sonic aesthetic that is all his own with which he filters the sounds and conventions of American Music into something unique. On his latest release, “Horse County”, he also demonstrates a unique voice as a songwriter and singer in addition to his known guitar and tune-crafting skills.
Born into a bluegrass family in Maryland, Jordan started early, playing bluegrass and fiddle tunes with some of the best players in the fertile mid-atlantic bluegrass scene. He also stayed busy playing rock and roll with his peers as well as studying jazz and classical guitar and composition in college. He released his first solo record of mostly original music at the age of 17 called “No Place Better” (2005) to critical acclaim within the bluegrass world. He quickly followed it up with “Long Story” (2007) a collection of original instrumentals that featured an all-star band of Noam Pikelny on banjo, Casey Driessen on fiddle, Andy Hall on dobro, and Mark Schatz on bass. The collection of adventurous yet deeply musical tunes solidified his reputation as being one of the most thoughtful and creatively driven personalities on the acoustic music scene and as a composer, player and bandleader capable of leading veteran musicians into uncharted waters. With his next release, “The Secret History” (2011), Jordan further pushed the limits of the absolute expressiveness of an acoustic ensemble. This outing, featuring Paul Kowert on bass and Simon Chrisman on hammered dulcimer, contained longer more through-composed pieces that despite their length never lost sight of the colorful hooks and beautiful and humorous sentiments that define Jordan’s work.
The development of Jordan’s creative work as a solo artist is only one narrative that defines his career. Since first busting onto the scene, he has also been an active sideman with progressive bluegrass pioneers like Frank Wakefield, Mark Schatz and friends, and Tony Trischka, lending his guitar playing to their endeavors both on stage and in the studio. He also contributed his mandolin playing skills to the Dave Rawlings Machine record “Nashville Obsolete” (2015), toured with the Canadian folk group, The Duhks, and worked with actor/comedian Steve Martin on his re-imagining of the Shakespeare play “As You Like It” for New York City’s “Shakespeare in the Park”.
Bridging the sideman and bandleader gap, Jordan is an active collaborator as well. His record “Corbett Chrisman Tice” (2008) with hammered dulcimer player, Simon Chrisman and banjoist, Wes Corbett was hailed as one of the top 5 records of the year by the Chicago tribune in 2008. Since 2014 he has worked closely with fiddler Brittany Haas (Crooked Still, Dave Rawlings Machine) and bassist Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers, Dave Rawlings Machine) in the trio Haas Kowert Tice. They released their debut record “You Got This” in 2014 and their follow up record, “Unless” in 2018 under the name “Hawktail”.
This brings us to the present and Jordan’s latest release, “Horse County”. Horse County is not a real place and in fact there is nothing else called Horse County in the world. The record is Jordan’s first to feature his singing and original songs in addition to his picking and tune-writing. The 11 tracks (6 songs and 5 instrumentals) combine many American folk music conventions with Jordan’s eccentric harmonic, melodic, and lyrical sense. The songs seem to be written by someone who has been at it their whole life and each one explodes with craft, color, and personality. “Chicken Dog” calls to mind the wilder and weirder side of Roger Miller; “Poor Me” and “Runnin Back to You” recall the snarky acerbic bite of Bob Dylan; “Way Downtown” and “Didn’t Think I was Gonna” call to mind the chatty hooks of John Hartford combined with the masterful harmonic and melodic craft of Jimmy Webb or Neil Young. “Live on the River til’ I Die” is a 6 minute epic story song about adventure and regret. The instrumentals are some of Jordan’s best. The title track is a raging bluegrass burner, “Craig” is a humorous take on the flat picking rags of Norman Blake and Doc Watson, and “A Cool Dog” and “Various Sauces” recall some of the achingly beautiful melodies and interesting harmonic turns we’ve come to expect from Jordan from his earlier instrumental releases. The solo guitar piece “Horse County Rag” is a manifestation of Jordan’s recent interest in the rag-time guitar pieces of Blind Blake and Reverend Gary Davis; with his own spin on the genre of course. All the material is inspired, the playing is superb, and the arrangements and sequencing are airtight.
The band on “Horse County” is also top-notch and includes such first call players as Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers) on bass, Dominick Leslie (Deadly Gentlemen) on mandolin, Mike Witcher (Peter Rowan) on dobro, Brittany Haas (Crooked Still) and Shad Cobb on fiddles, and Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers) on banjo. The record was recorded by guitarist Chris Eldridge who also, along with Jordan, co-produced the session.