Jason Wilber spent the majority of his adult life surrounded by legends. As a touring member of John Prine's band since the age of 26, Wilber has played some of the world's most storied stages. And he worked with and rubbed elbows with giants of the genre, from Emmylou Harris and Todd Snider to Miranda Lambert and Iris Dement.
Now 47, Wilber is unloading those decades of experience into the stories on his new album Reaction Time. And he's also bringing along some of those friends he made along the way.
Iris Dement joins Jason Wilber on the divinely peaceful yet rootsy and grounded new song "Heaven." In the tune, the pair sing of a much more personal place after passing. "Simply put, 'Heaven' expresses the notion that heaven might be unique for each person," Wilber tells Wide Open Country. "In his afterlife, the narrator of the song sees the images and places he loved in life. Those being a farm house out in the country and his family, instead of the classical image of Heaven (harps, angels, etc.)."
Much of the scenery draws from Wilber's real-life experiences. "We lived out in the country among fields and farms when I was a kid," he says. "My parents weren't farmers but many of our friends and neighbors were. This is a song that came to me as I was waking up one morning during a period of time when I was listening to lots of bluegrass. So along with my personal experiences, I think that kind of groove and those rural images were on my mind."
Check out the exclusive premiere below.
The song brings a uniquely laid-back and peaceful vibe, especially for a tune dealing with a topic as heavy as death. A lot of that low-key energy comes thanks to the gorgeous harmonies added by Iris Dement. Her tendency to sing on the backbeat makes the song extra special. Wilber and Dement met, as you can guess, through John Prine.
"Iris is a truly unique and brilliant singer, songwriter, and recording artist," Wilber says. "Over the years I've played in her band on the road some and opened for her many times. She's a good friend and I love her like a sister."
Together, the pair create a dynamic that just feels sincere and genuine. Which can be tough when dealing with the notion of heaven, especially since so many bluegrass tunes go the more religious route when breaching the subject.
"I consider myself spiritual, but not religious," he explains. He points to influential songs like "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and "Memories Of Mom And Dad." He wanted to add his personal twist to those themes. "Even though I love country and bluegrass songs with those spiritual themes, I wanted to express those feelings in a less 'biblical' way in this song," Wilber notes.
Reaction Time comes out August 11. It's his eighth solo album, and sure to be one of his best.