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At Work: Cris Jacobs

Rob Slater | January 19, 2017

Cris Jacobs spent almost a decade on the Mid-Atlantic jam circuit with Baltimore favorites The Bridge, which netted him a tour with Mike Gordon, a spot on The Wire and regular appearances at festivals like All Good, all before his 31st birthday. But it wasn’t until his genre-bending sextet parted ways in 2011 that Jacobs started the journey that led to his new, soulful album, Dust to Gold.

After The Bridge’s Thanksgiving Eve swan song, Jacobs put together another band, but he says that project quickly fizzled for a variety of reasons—kids, schedules and other common life obstacles. “I started playing solo a lot more out of necessity,” he explains. “It started to develop into a thing, and I opened for Steve Winwood in D.C.”

But, while playing on his own, Jacobs started rubbing elbows with Winwood and Sturgill Simpson. The guitarist describes the moment he turned on the stage to find the famed Traffic bandleader standing there, watching his set. “He basically came up to me afterward and said, ‘That was great. Let me get your information. We’d love to have you on the tour later [in the year].’ I didn’t think anything would come of it, but they sent me an email a couple months later like, ‘Here’s the tour. Which [shows] do you want?’”

A similar situation happened shortly thereafter when Jacobs caught the eye of country music’s newest outlaw. “I got off the stage and [Sturgill] came up to me and said, ‘Dude, that was badass.’” A few dates with Sturgill blossomed into a true friendship offstage. Jacobs gushes that Simpson is a “no-bullshit guy who just cares about the music and keeping it honest and genuine.”

Jacobs, who still texts with Simpson about kids and life, says it was an “inspiration to see two guys who are both huge heroes do it the right way” as he worked to assemble his appropriately named collection of rootsy rock tunes, Dust to Gold. Recording with an ensemble that included drummer Dusty Simmons and bassist Todd Herrington (formerly of DJ Williams Projekt), Jacobs says their chemistry clicked right away.

“They’re so funky and soulful and tasteful,” he says of his bandmates. “They know how to serve a song, but they can also play funk as well as anybody, so it’s really cool bringing that to my thing. We have this funky, Americana, soul, country thing going on which is really fun.”

Though Dust to Gold marks the start of Jacobs’ next chapter performing under his own name, he’s still clearly interested in collaborating. He recently formed a new band with Dumpstaphunk’s Ivan Neville and the longtime friends plan to release an album in 2017. “Playing with him has really been amazing,” Jacobs says. “He’s got soul like none other and he rolls out of bed with it.”