They’re the Time Jumpers, and they play Western Swing.
And according to their new theme song “We’re the Time Jumpers,” there’s only one appropriate action when their fiddles ring — dance. Weeping while two-steppin’ circles around empty rooms is also acceptable. Vince Gill got choked up at least twice while talking about their new collection Kid Sister, a musical celebration of life honoring their late bandmate and comrade Dawn Sears.
The beloved vocalist was married to bandleader and fiddle player Kenny Sears for 27 years, sang harmony with Gill for 22 years and performed with the Time Jumpers for 10. She was 53 when she lost her battle with lung cancer on Dec. 11, 2014. On that same night, Gill and his wife Amy Grant were headlining the Ryman Auditorium on their annual Christmas tour.
“This will be a testament to her sense of humor,” Gill recalled. “I was in the middle of the show, singing a song, and I felt there was a spirit that came in the Ryman. I thought, ‘I think she’s gone.’ I didn’t know it. But I felt it. In hindsight, she either came to that room to say goodbye or to give me the finger. Or maybe both.”
Gill cracked himself up along with the Time Jumpers’ Paul Franklin, Billy Thomas and Kenny Sears while kicking back at their management office off Music Row.
“It’s good for you,” Gill said as he laughed away tears for his late friend. “I’ve been doing this for 42 years, making records. Your job was always to support the person you’re working with and make what that person was trying to do better.”
“Every time I sing with somebody,” he added. “I want them to think that I was their brother. Blood harmony — that kind of thing is magical when DNA matches up and plays music together. That’s the gift I got from her all those years. She was like my kid sister. It sounded like blood.”
The 14-song collection is a flawless demonstration of how the gifted process their grief through music. Started in mid-2014 before cancer took away Sears’ ability to sing, the album starts with two songs that feature her voice, “San Antonio Rose” and “I Miss You.”
The Bob Wills opener is the last song Sears ever recorded before she lost her voice, and there were some parts she wanted to rework. But she never got the chance. As the band’s designated producer, Gill suggested Kenny sing the parts she wanted to change, making the cover into a new duet.
“I Miss You” is an Ashley Monroe-co-written song that was recorded with Sears for another Gill album that didn’t get used.
“It was originally written as a breakup song,” Gill said. “I got Ashley’s blessing and rewrote the words to have them be about what all of us were going through, especially Kenny. Dawn was his bride. It became not just a song. It became the truth.”
Kenny said writing “This Heartache” was the therapy he needed while mourning his wife.
“I was just having one of those blue days,” he recalled, “and I was writing things down. The more I wrote, the more it started looking like a song. Vince sat with me and helped me change some of it so it wasn’t so dark and someone could listen to it.”
Gill wrote the title track the morning he got the call that Sears had passed.
“After the show at the Ryman,” he said, “I went home and I just listened to songs of hers over and over — YouTube clips and records we made together. There’s a line in ‘Kid Sister’ song that says, ‘Say hello to your new world,’ and nobody really knows what that means. But the first thing we ever sang together was a song of mine called ‘Say Hello.’ It’s just the slightest reference.”
Loneliness is laid on thick in Ranger Doug Green’s shuffle “Empty Rooms” and “Table for Two,” a song Gill and Max D. Barnes originally co-wrote for Loretta Lynn’s 2002 album, Still Country. Gill contributed the wistful two-step, “True Love Meant for Me,” about a heart that longs to fall in love for the last time.
Balancing the grief are dynamic numbers “All Aboard,” “Blue Highway Blue,” “I Hear You Talkin’,” Honky Tonkin’,” Hank Penny’s “Bloodshot Eyes” and the Gill original “Sweet Rowena.” Additionally, Gill wrote the band’s first official theme song “We’re the Time Jumpers,” a swinging scorcher that namechecks every member of the band, including Dawn.
All agree working with her brought out the best in the group.
“I remember several times she came in, stood there all day as long as she could and fought to stand there and sing,” Franklin recalled. “I’m sure I can speak for all of us when I say watching her determination, passion and the strength to fight through all of that for the music that was most important to her. I think that’s why this record happened. It’s just so much love. That’s what she was. Everything happened because of her love for this band and for music in general.”
She also had a sharp sense of humor.
“We’re always reminiscing about something she said or did,” Franklin said. “We’ve got a few sayings that I can’t repeat here, but right when you’d walk onstage, she’d get in your ear and say, ‘Try not to mess it up.’”
“This was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen in my life walking into the bar that night,” Gill recalled. “She walked up to me and said, ‘I love you!’ I said, ‘You’ve got to be shitting me!’”
While she was stunning, the voice was less impressive than the packaging.
“She was not very good,” Gill recalled. “Then during her performance, she got pretty excited and it almost turned into an inappropriate dance at my expense while she was singing. I remember vividly getting on the mic and saying, ‘Amy Grant. Amy Grant. Amy Grant.’ Everybody in the club had completely lost it.”
“She gave Vince so much attention,” Kenny Sears said, “that when she left the stage, Dawn said, ‘Do you even know the name of this band?’”
The Time Jumpers are a 10-piece band of Nashville’s top session players who have played with the biggest names in music, including Kenny Chesney, Merle Haggard, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Kris Kristofferson, Jim Lauderdale, Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, Shania Twain and many more. They also appear on “All That’s Left” on Miranda Lambert’s Platinum.
They play nearly every Monday night at 9 p.m. at the Nashville club 3rd and Lindsley. Kid Sister is available now.