Jade Jackson – Gilded

Jade JacksonGilded

ANTI-Release: 19 May 2017

Within seconds after a guitar plays the intro to her song “Aden,” Jade Jackson’s voice, illuminated by experience, sings: “I grew up my father’s daughter. He said don’t take no shit from no one. You’ll never see me cry …”
And it’s with that voice and those lyrics that imply a thousand stories, this singer/songwriter hints at what she is capable of crafting, of how many tears she can stir in recounting her rambles to the far corners of her imagination, further even than she has actually travelled.

For Jackson has spent much of her time in a small California town, working in her parents’ restaurant, jotting down verses and picking out chords during breaks, then venturing eventually to more formal music studies in college before coming back home and startling listeners with the depth and intensity of her music.

Scheduled to release in May on Anti- Records, Gilded introduces her preternatural writing and raw, roots-rough sound. Surrounded by the close friends and gifted musicians that constitute her band, Jackson finds the perfect twist of phrase again and again, to express regret (“Let me walk over the bridges I’ve burned,” on the mournful “Bridges”), foreboding (“He kept his shiny blue gun underneath his dash/Deep inside she knew their lives were gonna crash,” a doomsday premonition set a galloping beat and spaghetti-Western guitar on “Troubled End”) and freedom (“I feel my boot heels sink in quicksand, baby, every time we kiss,” she tells her baffled lover on “Motorcycle.” “Ah, understand, boy, it’s been fun, but my motorcycle only seats one.”)

How did Jackson develop this command so young? First, of course, she was born with talent, which her home life nurtured. Though neither parent was a musician, both of them — especially her father — listened constantly to a range of artists, from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to The Smiths, The Cure and assorted punk outfits.
“There was always music at home,” Jackson remembers. “In fact, it weirded me out when I’d go to a friend’s house and we were supposed to be quiet.”

Just as important, she had a compelling reason to develop her talent from an early age. “I was just bored!” she insists. “That’s why I started playing guitar. I’d grown up in a really small house in a small town. I shared a room with my brother and sister until I was 12. Then when I was 13 we moved about 30 miles away to Santa Margarita because my parents wanted to open a restaurant there. So there were more people around but I didn’t know anybody. That summer it was 118 degrees and we didn’t have air conditioning. I didn’t have any friends. My parents were kind of anti-technology, so I grew up without the Internet.”

So she found escape on her own. “Even before I picked up the guitar, my favorite thing was to tell stories. I was so in love with poetry: I would watch how people reacted when I read something I wrote … and then I’d put myself in their shoes and try to imagine how it felt to be them because I was kind of sheltered.” She wrote prolifically — still does, in fact. “I couldn’t stop,” she admits. “I would write on whatever I could grab. If I was in the car, I’d write on a piece of trash. If there was no trash, I’d write on cardboard. In my junior year of high school, the local newspaper did a story that said ‘Jade Jackson writes a song every day!’ They had me count all the songs I’d written by then and I think I was up to 375.”

The numbers grew. Through hard work and a willingness to challenge herself with each new effort, the quality of the music grew too. At the same time, Jackson began thinking about music as possibly something more than a private escape. This epiphany dates back to the night she went to a concert for the first time without her parents. The headliner that night was one of her favorites, Social Distortion.

“When I watched Mike Ness walk onstage and felt the energy from the crowd, it ignited something in me,” Jackson says. “I wanted to be on that stage too. I never knew I wanted to perform until that day. That shifted all the gears in my life.”

She began by playing every Sunday at a coffee shop in Santa Margarita. “They had a guitar hanging on the wall, so I’d take it down, spread all my lyrics out on the floor, sit on the couch and read them from there,” she says, with a laugh. “But then this musician named Don Lampson saw me playing. He asked if I wanted to open for him. So I memorized four or five of my songs and for the first time in my life, sang through a microphone. I connected with that energy of performing. I loved it when I could make people feel emotions through my songs.”

Her following, like her catalog, grew steadily. By the time she’d completed high school, Jackson’s work had become impressive enough to persuade Cal Arts to accept her into its music program. There, she had her first formal music instruction as well as some more personal struggles and applied both to finessing her craft even further.

“When I was little and listening to Johnny Cash, his songs were so sad, kind of slow and melancholy,” she says. “I didn’t understand what the words meant but I understood how they made me feel. In college, when I had my first taste of real depression, all of a sudden his songs and Hank Williams’s stories came true. I was like, ‘Holy shit! Now I actually know what those words meant!’ It was like a circle completing itself.”

One more circle led Jackson to her most critical step forward, when she and Mike Ness began working together. Their mothers had been friends in high school, which brought the two artists together. A short while after hearing her perform, he offered to mentor her. They assembled the band that’s been by her side since they came together. He agreed to produce Gilded as well.

“He gave me homework,” she points out. “He made me listen to Lucinda Williams’s Car Wheels On A Gravel Road and told me to listen only to that album for the next three or so months. That was the template of the album he wanted to create with me, so I picked from songs of mine that had a similar feel. If I didn’t have him, Gilded would have been a lot more scattered.”

That’s the key, right there. Gilded is a closed circuit, a masterwork of emotional honesty, of epic tales and intimate confessions. What’s scattered beyond, in songs long completed and many more yet to come, is a promise of more circles, more unique perspectives on hard lessons learned and too soon forgotten.

This is just the first you’ve heard from Jade Jackson. So much more lies ahead, for her and for us.

Jesse Dayton – The Revealer

Texas native Jesse Dayton has a long list of career accomplishments, but the two that best describe his musical personality are playing lead guitar for both Waylon Jennings and X.

Add his stint with country-punkers the Supersuckers, expand that to this new solo album (his sixth since 1995, most for his Stag label) and you’ve got a sense of the sound for The Revealer. Dayton’s booming, baritone is reminiscent at times of Jennings with a side order of George Jones (who he pays tribute to on “Possum Ran Over My Grave”) on the pure country “Match Made in Heaven,” and a touch of Springsteen blue collar growl, especially when he digs into a Chuck Berry/Stones inspired rocker such as “Take Out the Trash.”

Dayton shifts his approach from rollicking wimmin, whisky and carousing in pick-up trucks material such as “3 Pecker Goat,” the Sun-era Johnny Cash inflected “I’m at Home Gettin’ Hammered (While She’s Out Getting’ Nailed” and the Little Richard unhinged rocking of “Holy Ghost Rock n Roller,” to more thought provoking, even tender fare. He describes in detail a nurturing relationship with his family’s black housekeeper in “Mrs. Victoria (Beautiful Thing),” a sweet, touching folk ballad sung with the emotional sensitivity of what seems to be a story plucked from his past.

On “The Way We Are,” a treatise on touring where one day you’re up and the next you’re down, he reflects on his life saying “We’d do it for nothing or drinks from the bar.” The closing acoustic “Big State Motel,” another tale of road existence that, despite its clichéd concept, rings true with the intensity and self-realization this is the path he has chosen as he reveals “… our lost souls go on and on/Lord, we’re too damn far to turn back now.”

The album’s title expresses the intent of Dayton’s pure country leanings, told in songs that reveal the innermost thoughts and outermost activities of a musician who, as Muddy Waters so pointedly sang, lives the life he loves and loves the life he lives … at least most of the time.

Zephaniah OHora’s debut is unadulterated classic country

American Songwriter has the title track from Zephaniah OHora’s debut album today!

We’ve got an incredible country album debut for you today from Zephaniah OHora! The title track, “This Highway“, is up over on American Songwriter who said its “leisurely pedal steel and electric guitar twang [provide] a lush backdrop for OHora’s nimble croon.” To get a different taste the album opener “Way Down In My Soul” has a sliver of psychedelia, which is definitely deliberate. Zephaniah wrote this track to connect the archetypal love song to a psychedelic experience. If you’re in the mood for a gussied up classic duet check out Dori Freeman and OHora’s cover of the Nancy and Frank Sinatra track “Somethin’ Stupid“. Check out the full album below and if you need any more information please do let me know!

It’s a dark little bar, named after Guy Clark’s bass player, that’s tucked into a lost corner of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. The band’s crammed up on the stage, nearly spilling into the audience, and young couples are two-stepping around the edges. With a nightly lineup of the best young honky-tonk bands in the US coming through, Skinny Dennis has become the center of New York’s burgeoning roots country scene, and Zephaniah OHora–his hair slicked back, all decked out in black–is leading this new community. OHora’s encyclopedic knowledge and burning love for old country music glows triumphantly throughout his new album This Highway (set for release June 9th, 2017), which frames his original songs right in the crossroads of a golden era in the music: the meeting of the Bakersfield and Nashville Sounds of the 1960s. This blend of New-York-City-meets-Merle-Haggard songwriting means that  OHora’s songs feel deeply personal even while presented through the smooth sound of a bygone era.

Perhaps it’s a credit to his ability to imagine himself in any place or time. OHora is originally from New Hampshire, where he grew up playing music for worship meetings at his church. These evangelical meetings centered around improvisational music, intense prayer, and even speaking in tongues. “It was kind of like a cult, although I didn’t realize it at the time”, he says with a laugh. Leaving the church, OHora walked a winding path through his early 20s. “I experimented with psychedelics at the time, and after you have that first life changing trip, everything seems to take on a more surrealistic nature.” Listening to the LSD-inspired “Way Down in my Soul”, you can almost envision OHora floating through a 70’s country love affair.


The Time Jumpers – Kid Sister

Although 2016’s Kid Sister is only their third LP, Western swing ensemble the Time Jumpers have been a Nashville institution since the late ’90s. Formed by a crew of top-shelf session players seeking a casual outlet outside of the studio, they became a Music City staple when they landed a weekly residency at The Station Inn playing old swing tunes, jazz, and pop standards. With 2007’s live album Jumpin’ Time, they parlayed their status as Monday night’s hottest band into a couple of Grammy nominations, then added Vince Gill to the band as a guitarist and occasional frontman. Fast forward to 2016 and the Time Jumpers are still Monday night’s hottest band, though their popularity caused them to move their weekly gig to the larger capacity 3rd & Lindsley. Following their 2012 self-titled studio debut, vocalist — and wife of fiddler and founding member Kenny SearsDawn Sears succumbed to cancer, leaving a major hole in what has become a tight-knit musical family. Named for and dedicated to Sears, Kid Sister is the group’s first album since her passing and is the last to feature her powerhouse voice, which can be heard on the two opening tracks. While the Jumpers are most vibrant in front of an audience, they turn in a solid set here, full of heart, soul, and plenty of craft. Highlights include the instrumentally dazzling live favorite “All Aboard,” the smoky “Blue Highway Blue,” and the heartbreaking title cut. As on-stage, their unity as a ten-piece band is at the heart of what they do, with vocals and licks deftly passed back and forth among the ranks, despite having a well-known commodity in Gill. Among the fine Western swing covers and ballads are a number of Gill-penned songs, one of which — “We’re the Time Jumpers” — acts as the group’s theme song. Still, he and his bandmates are team players above all, faithfully serving this timeless brand of American music and, in this case, doing so in the spirit of Sears and her years of camaraderie and collaboration.

Brent Cobb – Shine On Rainy Day

In the decade since releasing his 2006 debut, Brent Cobb also emerged as a Music Row songwriter, landing songs with high-profile artists like Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, and Kenny Chesney, among others. His move into the Nashville establishment may have brought his career some well-deserved success, but as an artist, his heart remained rooted in the Deep South of his hometown, Ellaville, Georgia. Produced by Brent‘s cousin Dave Cobb (Shooter Jennings, Sturgill Simpson) at his Low Country Sound studio, Shine on Rainy Day is personal and soulful, with little of contemporary country’s gloss and a stripped-down, earthy poeticism that some have likened to Kris Kristofferson‘s early albums. On these ten songs, small-town Georgia — its sights, smells, feelings, residents, and customs — are Brent‘s muse and partner. It’s a world he sketches in “South of Atlanta,” a gently sprawling five-minute waltz whose lyrics celebrate a town “where the water is clean, loblollies grow tall and winters ain’t mean.” It’s a feeling he yearns for in the easy rise and fall of “Country Bound,” as he questions what’s missing in his crowded city lifestyle. Even when not directly addressing his muse, its tone and texture creep in on deep, bluesy tracks like “Let the Rain Come Down” and “Black Crow,” the latter of which features some fine slide work by Jason Isbell. Framing the songs are Dave‘s unfussy arrangements and natural production style, which really bring out the relaxed intimacy of Brent‘s writing. Whether it’s the family connection or merely a shared understanding of what is needed, the two Cobbs seem to bring out the best in each other on this fine release.

John Prine – For Better, or Worse

In 1999, John Prine released a thoroughly charming and engaging album called In Spite of Ourselves, in which he covered a handful of classic country tunes (tossing in one new original for good measure) as duets with nine talented female vocalists. Prine has given the same approach another try 17 years later, and though For Better, or Worse isn’t quite as good as his first go-round with this concept, it’s still a fine collection of songs from a man who knows a bit about crafting a tune. The greatest strength of For Better, or Worse is also one of its weaknesses — Prine himself. Prine was nearly 70 when he recorded this album, and his voice has grown worse for wear (his battle with throat cancer in the ’90s and a more recent brush with lung cancer haven’t helped). But if he sounds his age on these tracks, he also spins that to his advantage; on numbers like “Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out,” “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” and “I’m Telling You,” he sounds like an wily old rascal who’s seen it all and has plenty to tell. Prine‘s female co-stars are all in better shape than he is in terms of their instruments, and across the board they sound happy and honored to be working with the great man. Alison Krauss, Lee Ann Womack, Kacey Musgraves, Susan Tedeschi, Miranda Lambert, and Kathy Mattea all bring their A game to these sessions, and help to give Prine a boost when he needs it. Of course, the best tracks are the ones where Prine teams up with Iris DeMent; the two singers have long shown they’re simpatico, and hearing them together on “Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out” and “Mr. & Mrs. Used to Be” is a delight. Add in a studio band that delivers the classic Nashville honky tonk sound these songs demand, and a closing solo performance of “Just Waitin’,” where Prine makes Luke the Drifter‘s lyrics sound like something he could have written himself, and you get a fine latter-day album from a seminal artist. It’s still troubling that one of America’s best songwriters seems to have lost the desire to pen new material, but For Better, or Worse shows John Prine hasn’t lost his spirit as a performer.

Blue Highway – Original Traditional

Blue Highway have been one of the most well-respected bands in bluegrass since they made their debut in 1996, and with the group’s consistent excellence on-stage and in the studio, there hasn’t been much in the way of change in their story. 2016’s Original Traditional actually marks a turning point in Blue Highway‘s career as they celebrate their 20th Anniversary — it’s their first album since Dobro master and founding member Rob Ickes left the group, and introduces Gaven Largent, a gifted 19-year-old picker making his debut with the band. (All the more remarkably, this is only the second personnel change in the group’s history, and Largent is the only current member of Blue Highway who didn’t appear on their debut album.) It’s a compliment to Largent to say that many fans might not notice the difference; the young man’s Dobro solos on numbers like “If Lonesome Don’t Kill Me,” “Last Time I’ll Ever Leave This Town,” and “She Ain’t Worth It” are technically impressive and melodically sound, and fit these songs like a glove. Elsewhere, Original Traditional finds Blue Highway doing what’s made them bluegrass legends; the group’s instrumental work is uniformly excellent, with tight ensemble picking and great soloing from Jason Burleson on banjo, Shawn Lane on fiddle and mandolin, and Tim Stafford on guitar. The band’s outstanding harmonies are still in excellent shape (their a cappella version of the gospel standard “Hallelujah” is one of this album’s highlights), and the lead vocals from Stafford, Lane, and bassist Wayne Taylor are strong and sincere. And as the title suggests, Original Traditional testifies to Blue Highway‘s gift for bringing fresh ideas to music that still honors the roots of bluegrass, with 11 original songs that deal with subjects as old as love gone wrong, and as urgent as a young man running from a life of abuse and desperation. Not many groups in any genre can sound as fresh and vital after two decades together as Blue Highway do on Original Traditional, and if another 20 years might seem overly optimistic, there’s no audible reason why this group shouldn’t have at least another good decade of heartfelt music in them.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Circlin’ Back: Celebrating 50 Years

Friends always meant something special to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band — their 1972 breakthrough, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, was filled with them — so it only makes sense that the group rounded up a bunch of pals for a 50th anniversary concert held at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on September 14, 2015. Released a year later, Circlin’ Back: Celebrating 50 Years does indeed play like a celebration. Revisiting an equal portion of hits and traditional tunes, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sound as deep and wise as the Nashville veterans did when they guested on Will the Circle Be Unbroken, but the nice thing about the Circlin’ Back concert is that it takes into account the smoother hits the band had in the ’80s: Rodney Crowell and Alison Krauss sit in on “An American Dream” and Jimmy Ibbotson plays on “Fishin’ in the Dark.” Here, they’re presented in stripped-down arrangements that nevertheless echo the soft rock gloss of the hit singles, and when combined with rollicking bluegrass, rustic folk, and straight-ahead country, it results in a full portrait of what the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is all about. Better still, Circlin’ Back is just a good time: as John Prine, Vince Gill, Sam Bush, Jackson Browne, and Jerry Jeff Walker take the stage, the entire thing feels like a party — which, of course, is what it was.

Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis

Robert Ellis‘ fine Lights from the Chemical Plant features “Tour Song” as its closer. The sparsely orchestrated track confesses to paranoia and fear while he’s on the road. He speculates about possible infidelity from his wife. That story gets fleshed out on Robert Ellis. It’s a divorce record that meditates on themes of infidelity, existential pain, accountability, desire, conflict, loss, acceptance, and the marrow-deep restlessness in his own life that drives them all. Ellis produced the date at Sugar Hill Studios in his hometown of Houston, Texas, the city that begat Mickey Newbury, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, and Robert Earl Keen (all mavericks who challenged convention). His lyrics are often nakedly confessional and are framed in melodies and arrangements that embrace the kind of sophisticated pop songwriting pioneered by Randy Newman, Danny O’Keefe, Newbury, and Charlie Rich without leaving roots music behind. Even the two songs he didn’t write, Matthew Vasquez‘s “How I Love You,” and guitarist Kelly Doyle‘s “Screw”– feel all of a piece. In “Perfect Strangers” he reflects on what brings lovers together and what ultimately alienates them from each other. The intricate, savvy chart suggests a production aesthetic influenced by Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley, Roy Halee, and Ben Mink. Conversely, “Drivin'” is a super picker’s delight, steeped in honky tonk and bluegrass, complete with brushed snares, tom-toms, and Dobro. In the first person he expresses impotent frustration: he’s unable to coexist in the same space as his estranged other, but has nowhere else to go. In “California,” Ellis skillfully blends a jazz guitar vamp with a Rhodes piano in classic AOR musical vernacular. His protagonist is a woman after a broken relationship, who finds herself rootless while packing her belongings in an empty house. She recalls the fights, its bitter end, and the possibilities of a new life. “The High Road” is introduced in a minor key through an uneasy balance of tense strings and nylon-string guitar. The words reach into Van Zandt‘s grab bag of economical tough drama, but the music is framed in the stark baroque country Willie Nelson offered on the conceptual Phases and Stages (another divorce record). Ellis admits he’s tired of pretending to play fair, not because it’s wrong, but because it doesn’t work. The shimmering bossa rhythms under “Amanda Jane” may not suggest Houston, but a close listen to the melody unmasks Clark‘s massive influence. Set closer “It’s Not Ok” explains the reason Ellis is a jealous man: it’s a confession of his own cheating. He knows it’s wrong, feels doomed to repeat himself, but doesn’t — or can’t — care. He’s swept away by his feelings for another woman. This track is a collision of modern country, Americana, pop, and guitar heroics, with 21st century production. It brings Robert Ellis to an unsettling, dissonant, beautiful close. The artist makes a convincing argument here that he too belongs in Houston’s pantheon.

Chatham County Line – Autumn

A staple of the Yep Roc roster since 2005, North Carolina’s Chatham County Line often get labeled as a bluegrass act, though that’s only a small part of what they do. More than anything, they’re an Americana string band focused around the subtle songwriting talents of singer/guitarist Dave Wilson, who also acts as producer on Autumn, the group’s eighth LP. In the album’s press release, Wilson compares his band to both an old bowling alley and a hardware store in that they reliably deliver a familiar experience that keeps customers coming back year after year. It’s self-deprecating, for sure, but Chatham County Line are anything but flashy, and they are certainly reliable in terms of quality and tone. For a string band album titled Autumn, they deliver exactly what you’d want: a nuanced selection of warm, earthy music replete with gentle guitar picking, woody mandolin, muted banjo, occasional piano, and a robust vocal blend to evoke the wistful changing of the season. A rich inner language can be felt between Wilson and his colleagues John Teer (mandolin, fiddle), Chandler Holt (banjo, vocal), and Greg Readling (bass, piano, pedal steel, organ) whose parts all dovetail perfectly in the casual kind of way that comes from years of collaborating together. Instead of coming out of the gate at a sprint, they open with “You Are My Light,” an early highlight with an underpinning of late-year darkness in its slinky midtempo hook. The maritime-themed “Siren Song,” another strong cut, is imbued with a timeless comfort that belies its fine craft. In fact, the band’s amiable delivery often draws attention away from their effortless compositions and arrangements to the point that they can occasionally come across as unassuming. It’s once again the autumnal darkness that pulls them into sharper focus on the standout “Moving Pictures of My Mind,” a haunting ballad whose very essence conjures up the chillier, lonesome side of their album’s title.