Jenifer Jackson’s Latest Brilliant Album Follows Her Deeper into Americana
It’s hard to think of a more brilliantly chameleonic songwriter than Jenifer Jackson. She can switch from honktonk to bossa nova to oldschool soul to psychedelia and absolutely own all of those styles. Throughout her career – from the Beatlesque tropicalia of her first full-length album Slowly Bright, through her most previous, more mistily bucolic The Day Happiness Found Me – one constant has been how economically she writes. No wasted notes, no wasted words, always straightforward and direct with an unselfconsciousness that can be downright scary. The other constant is that she’s always had an amazing band. She did a long stretch in New York for about ten years, ending in the late zeros, before setting down new roots in Austin. The change did her good, inspiring her to follow the Americana muse that always seemed to be perched on her shoulder somewhere.
Her latest album, Texas Sunrise, is streaming at Bandcamp. Jackson opens it with the gently evocative title track, fingerpicking her guitar against the warmly wistful backdrop of Kullen Fuchs’ vibraphone and Chris Meitus’ mandolin, Tony Rogers’ cello adding a stark undercurrent. A Heart With a Mind of its Own goes deeper into 50s C&W, period-perfect down to the fluttery cello multitracks. By contrast, the album’s other vintage country tune, Sad Teardrops is a hard-hitting hard-honkytonk kiss-off anthem worthy of early Loretta Lynn. And Paint It Gold, a duet with co-writer Fuchs, takes the idiom forward twenty years to the early 70s proto-outlaw sounds of bands like the Flatlanders.
Jackson’s voice can be fetchingly poignant, as on the warily introspective ballad Easy to Live, or the evocative, balmy atmospherics of the nocturne When Evening Light Is Low. And her gently ambered, vibrato-tinged vocals on the dreamily regretful Ballad of Time Gone By will give you goosebumps. Yet her most nuanced and quietly impactful moments are actually on the more upbeat material here, particularly the Rosanne Cash-esque In Summer, a blend of Americana and the elegant pop tunesmithing of Jackson’s early days, lit up by Fuchs’ one-man horn section.
Similarly, the most energetic songs here are the real knockouts. All Around, with its windswept angst and desolate shoreline milieu, evokes Steve Wynn at his most haunting and wintry. Fuchs colors the uneasy Texas shuffle On My Mind with accordion washes and swirls and then a soaringly aching brass section. A Picture of May plunges more broodingly into southwestern gothic, a plaintively stately, bolero-tinged number. The most quietly devastating track here is White Medicine Cloud, a hypnotic, metaphorically bristling anthem with an understated antiwar message, Jackson painting a great plains tableau that’s genuinely touching.
On a more sobering note, over the past few weeks Jackson has been battling an injury that’s forced her to switch to piano. Although she’s a competent player, guitar is her main axe, and not being able to play it has thrown a wrench in her ability to just pack up and perform pretty much anywhere. She’s pretty tough, so the longterm prognosis is optimistic. But if there ever was a time to support this resolutely individualistic artist, now is it. You can pick up the album at Bandcamp or Jackson’s merch page.
"Whether she's wheeling through a breezy Burt Bacharach-styled arrangement, vocally fluttering between Rickie Lee Jones and Edith Piaf, or writing with the determined but delicate clarity of Joni Mitchell, Jenifer Jackson is an artist possessed of complexity and grace.
"So High, her third record (and first for Bar/None), is such an unusual and self-possessed recording that comparing her too closely to the above artists does her a disservice. Jackson doesn't mimic them. She doesn't particularly try to sound like anybody but herself. But, as evidenced by the staggering array of styles so expertly tackled in this 11-song release, she has absorbed, and in some cases improved upon, most of the finest aspects of delicious, opulent pop.
"The bubbly, Swan Dive-reminiscent opener The Power of Love sets the stage for a sumptuous record. Jackson, producer Pat Sansone (The Autumn Defense, Andrew Bird, Josh Rouse) and an outstanding band create a thick, dark, captivating sonic world - something that would translate visually to a cross between film noir and a" classic Blue Note record cover.
"The record unfolds into a series of emotionally complicated and musically breathtaking songs that range from the hushed, high-plains whisper of Since You've Been Away to the sprawling, sexy grooves of Got to Have You and the standout So High. Somebody needs to kiss Sansone on the mouth for that bass line. A sugary Brill Building-style jaunt through We Will Be Together and the woozy, Astrud Gilberto-reminiscent Look Down round out this nigh-on-perfect set.
"The most difficult part of writing about a record like So High is that there aren't enough superlatives to truly express just how damn good this music is. Go buy it."
Jackson writes high, sweet melodies that often test the limits of her voice, but her pure, straight-