On the long list of really nice guys I have met in the years I have been writing about music, Justin Burke just might occupy the top spot. Few musicians, at least to my witness, pursue the process of music making with a smile as big as Justin’s, and one cannot help but be overwhelmed by his good nature.

Ever since being turned on to James Justin & Co. many years ago by a fellow writer at another publication, I have been a big, big fan of what Justin and his mates, Tom Propst and Bailey Horsley, have done with their take on bluegrassy acoustic music.

Though the band is now in a state of flux – Horsley recently announced he was leaving to pursue other interests – James Justin & Co. are out promoting the recent release of their new record, Social Animals. Following in the vein of their previous records, this collection of tunes is awash with jubilant positivity and instrumental prowess.

I recently had the chance to catch up with Justin Burke to chat about the new record and his spirit animal.

BRO – Love the album cover. You guys channeling your spirit animals?

JB – I actually took a spirit animal quiz and it said I was a llama. And this really terrible photo of a llama, drooling, came up and I was certain there had to be a mistake. I thought for sure I was going to be a great white shark. I’ve always been intrigued by them. During a recording session for “Make Me Howl,” I pulled up the grey wolf on Wikipedia and began talking on the track, making a soliloquy in the booth. One take, and it was such an inspirational part of the record. It sparked the album title, cover, and overall vibe.

BRO – When you and I were chatting, you described the new record as some of your best work yet. What sets this record above the others?

JB – The adventure. A lot of the album was done in one take, and sometimes that can bite you, but in these sessions it puts the listener in the studio with us. For c, on “The Break,” I messed up the intro twice, took a breath, then laid out an epic take, and we put it all on the record. We brought in producer Ricardo Carrillo, and he had some great suggestions about leaving things in and taking things away, and he also played a few synth and beat tracks on the record.

BRO – You have put together a cool little side project called Pretty Heavy. Tell me about it.

JB – Man, it’s exactly what it says. It’s pretty and it’s heavy. I’ve been itching to get back on the electric and the big rig with all my toys. We’re having a blast and actually building a great fan base organically. We’ll definitely be playing more shows and hopefully putting out an album this year.

BRO – We are featuring “Energy” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?

JB – Sonically, it has the entire vibe of the album rolled into one song. Bailey said it should be the first track and he was exactly right. It’s the perfect intro to the album. It’s all about the live energy between us and our fans. They are the only reason we exist, so we had to honor that relationship. The line, “We can’t wait to come to your town and lift you off your feet again, that’s energy, and music all around,” just says it all.

BRO – You, Tom, or Bailey . . . which one of you is the most social animal?

JB –  I guess I would say all three of us have own spirit, socially. A bear, a fox, and a wolf.

You can catch James Justin & Co. this weekend at The Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia, and you can bet that you’ll hear a healthy dose of the brand new tunes on Social Animals.

For a free stream of the new record, or to download your own copy, check out the band’s website.

Be sure to check out “Energy,” along with nineteen other great new tunes, on this month’s Trail Mix.