The key to surviving the relentlessly dark, rainy climate of the Pacific Northwest is simple: make your own sunshine. That is exactly what Jacob Miller and the Bridge City Crooners have done in their newest album, Pacific Ragtime. Merging the old-timey woodlands of the Northwest with the sunny coastline of 1940s California, Pacific Ragtime is a fresh spin on America’s vintage jazz sound.
Based in Portland, Oregon (nicknamed “Bridge City” by locals, from whence the Crooners get their name), Jacob Miller and the Bridge City Crooners demonstrate a terrifyingly high level of musicianship for a band whose oldest members are still years away from 30. Jacob Miller is a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter—in fact, he wrote all but two songs on Pacific Ragtime, although it would be difficult to tell them apart from beloved jazz standards. He comes originally from Wisconsin, where he only recently discovered a deep musical root in the family tree. His grandparents, without fame or fanfare, composed numerous jazz and ragtime songs, two of which appeared on the release of Jacob Miller and the Bridge City Crooners’ first EP, A Love Like This. In homage, Miller has spit-shined and recorded a song his grandmother wrote in the 1940s, “I Helped to Mend”, which she recorded with her husband in their living room. Driving the rhythm on the tenor/plectrum banjo (and vocals) is James Ramey. Nate Lown joins on tromboneand vocals, while Leon Cotter—swiped from Portland’s swing dance music scene—holds court on clarinet and saxophone. Ben Hampton rocks steady on drums, and Cary Miga plays upright bass.
With their natty suits and natural ease on stage, it’s easy to see why the six- piece outfit wins over every crowd and festival. They create a sense of electric nostalgia—even in those unfamiliar with the genre. Pacific Ragtime pulls textures from a wealth of musical idioms, from early jazz to country blues to jugband swing, with influences from 60s B-side soul and early rock. The result is a music for the new Depression—created, not recreated. With harmonies so tight you could flick a penny off them, and musicianship and stamina that only the most devoted players can pull off, Jacob Miller and the Bridge City Crooners are the freshest breath of air that the west coast has to offer. Just turning on Pacific Ragtime is like a pulling down your own ray of sunshine.
Jacob Miller - Guitar/Vocals
Ben Hampton - Drum Kit/Percussion
James Ramey - Plectrum Banjo
Nate Lown - Trombone
Leon Cotter - Clarinet/Saxophone
Cary Miga - Upright Bass
"This isn't tame music, though it might hearken to traditions that span generations. The Portland-based gang may be rooted in the music of the '30s and '40s, but they have reinvigorated those sounds while not slavishly following predictable sonic patterns."
- The Bluegrass Situation
"He's writing songs that sound like they came out of some Kansas City dice game, so full of old-school hokum and ragtime finger-picking, that they'd do any old 78 collector proud."
- No Depression
"His voice warbles with the staccato of a jazz shouter and wails like a country blues moan."
- Hearth Music
"Terrific album that blends vaudeville, New Orleans jazziness, blues, and a variety of other textures into a fully formed and entertaining album that always has a simple upbeat feel."
- American Roots UK
"...a band that is as steeped in whiskey as they are old-time Americana."
- Those Who Dig
"Miller is a member of a special breed of modern musician, one who does not do a disservice to his inspirations, but rather carries on the warm tradition of their music."
- The Music Court