Throughout musical history, those of a tender age have often shown a prolific prowess that outpaces their level of growth and maturity. The examples are evident — Michael Jackson, Sarah Jarosz, Stevie Wonder and Sara & Sean Watkins are among the more obvious examples of musicians who made their mark early on, at an age where many of us are just learning how to tie our shoelaces.
East Tennessee’s Eli Fox is the latest artist to show that remarkable proficiency; at age 18, he’s setting his sites on college and, equally importantly, boasting his full length musical debut, the ironically dubbed Tall Tales. The follow up to an initial EP that came out last year, it finds Fox taking his cue from traditional Americana…
…and, most strikingly, the wit and rapport of early Bob Dylan. That’s particularly true of a song like “Hillbilly” where he states his case and shares his rural roots. The easy amble of “Fine Toothed Comb,“ the aw-shucks sentiment of “Tell Me Why” and the rapid fire delivery that accompanies “What Can I Do” more than affirm his down home demeanor, a dry yet demonstrative sound underscored by his rural regimen and an unassuming singing style that sounds as if it just rolled out of the far hills of Appalachia. He shares an obvious admiration for Woody Guthrie, but his instrumental ability — he plays guitar, banjo, fiddle, piano and harmonica with equal ease — only enhances his reverence for the roots. Indeed, really has a rookie been so quick to establish his credence and creativity.
“Hats Off and Bottoms Up” says Nashville-based country artist, Cherish Lee. These days, the daughter of country legend, Johnny Lee (“Urban Cowboy”) and “Dallas” star, Charlene Tilton deserves some “hats off” herself. Her semi-autobiographical single, “Tequila Cowgirl” earned her rave reviews, international radio airplay, and several award nominations. Cherish will also be among the stars on the Christmas 4 Kids Bus Tour on December 11th in Nashville.
Markos Papadatos is a Hellenic News Hall of Fame journalist. Over the past 11 1/2 years, Papadatos has authored over 7,500 articles. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music including Aerosmith, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Dame Vera Lynn, Olivia Newton-John, and countless others. In 2017, he won “Best Twitter from Long Island” for @Powerjournalist in the Arts & Entertainment category in the “Best of Long Island.” For more information, visit http://www.digitaljournal.com/user/274377.
Cherish Lee has seen how hard the business is first hand through her father, Johnny Lee (country music legend, Urban Cowboy’s “Lookin’ For Love”) and mother, Charlene Tilton (television sex pot vixen, Lucy Ewing on hit TV show, “DALLAS”). She quickly gained her own recognition as a singer and songwriter in THE Music City. Lee’s album is truly homegrown– a Cinderella piece that is just flat out cool. “Tequila Cowgirl” is about an all American girl- a hard worker; she’s got her head on straight, knows right from wrong and lives by that. She loves Jesus and tequila. She loves her animals and is thankful for what she has. While she doesn’t need a man and won’t share her bed with just anyone, she is looking forward to meeting the right one. Any guy would be considered lucky to bring her home to meet his mama, and every girl wants to be her best friend! The song has an intimate, nostalgic feel to it with a healthy dose of country music. For more information on Cherish Lee, please visit http://www.cherishleemusic.com.
Eight months after releasing the best-selling country album of the year, Chris Stapleton is back with a companion piece. From A Room: Volume 2 arrives December 1st, delivering another batch of songs culled from Stapleton’s Library of Congress-sized back catalog. It’s lean and live-sounding, with hands-off production by Dave Cobb – who captures each song with minimal knob-twiddling, shining some honest light on a working band that’s logged countless stage hours since Traveller‘s 2015 release – and plenty of guitar solos from the industry’s most unsung instrumentalist. Stapleton’s voice remains as titanic ever, but on these nine tracks, he packs an equally sized punch as both picker and bandleader. Volume 2 isn’t just about songs in RCA Studio A (the “room” in the title); it’s about the people occupying that studio too, and Stapleton keeps fine company throughout.
1. “Millionaire” (Kevin Welch) Originally recorded by Kevin Welch, “Millionaire” gets a swinging, Heartbreakers-worthy update by Stapleton and company, who turn the tune into a soulful blast of heartland rock. The song’s secret weapon: Morgane Stapleton, whose harmonies trace her husband’s melodies at every twist and turn.
2. “Hard Livin'” (Chris Stapleton, Kendell Marvel) Stapleton summons the ghost of Waylon Jennings with this song’s phase-shifted guitar riff, renewing his outlaw stripes along the way. Before the final solo, he lets a loud, lawless “Wooo!” escape from his throat, proof that recording “Hard Livin'” was easier than its title suggests. File this stomping Southern rocker alongside Traveller‘s “Nobody to Blame.”
3. “Scarecrow in the Garden” (Stapleton, Brice Long, Matt Fleener)
With a Celtic-sounding verse and a haunting, minor-key chorus, “Scarecrow in the Garden” is the album’s first non-anthem, trading the bombast of the first two tracks for something more reminiscent of an old-school murder ballad. During the song’s final moments, Stapleton paints a gripping picture of a farmer at the end of his rope. “I was sitting here all night / With a Bible in my left hand and a pistol in my right,” he sings.
4. “Nobody’s Lonely Tonight” (Stapleton, Mike Henderson) Written with ex-SteelDriver Mike Henderson, this low-and-slow soul ballad borrows some of its movements from the Great American Songbook, sounding like something Cole Porter might’ve written after too many drunken nights in the Delta.
5. “Tryin’ to Untangle My Mind” (Stapleton, Jaren Boyer, Marvel) “I’m lonesome and stoned, so far down the Devil’s looking high,” Stapleton sings, embodying one of his most familiar characters: the tortured, heartbroken protagonist who’s looking for relief in all the wrong places. Behind him, the band kicks up plenty of bluesy dust.
6. “A Simple Song” (Stapleton, Darrell Hayes) The title says it all. Unhurried and unplugged, “A Simple Song” sketches its storyline in broad strokes. There’s a factory worker, a broken family and a romance that’s keeping the narrator afloat. Like “Drunkard’s Prayer,” it’s one of the most intimate songs on the album, reminiscent of older tunes like “Whiskey and You.”
7. “Midnight Train to Memphis” (Stapleton, Henderson) A booming, burly rocker, “Midnight Train to Memphis” finds Stapleton in jail, serving a 40-day sentence while a distant train wails its horn outside the prison walls. The whole riff is built upon a monster guitar riff, injecting venom and vitriol into Volume 2‘s final stretch.
8. “Drunkard’s Prayer” (Stapleton, Jameson Clark) “I hate the fact it takes a bottle to get me on my knees,” Stapleton bellows, playing the part of a broken, boozy man who hopes God will be more forgiving of his sins than the woman who recently left him. The guitar pattern echoes Willie Nelson’s reading of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and like that song, “Drunkard’s Prayer” is delivered entirely alone, a move that drives home the song’s lonely message.
9. “Friendship” (Homer Banks, Lester Snell) Bookending the album with another cover tune, “Friendship” finds Stapleton singing a forgotten country-soul number from the Stax archives. The Staples Singers’ patriarch, Pops Staples, recorded the song shortly before his death, and Stapleton’s version updates the original with deeper groves and gorgeous guitar tremolo.
It’s rare that an album leaves me in awe, grasping for words to describe it, but that’s exactly where I was the first time I heard Jenna Torres’ Wild Sugar. Often, we hear the hyperbole of the singer/songwriter that channels emotion and has the “right voice at the right time,” so it was a struggle to adequately describe the New York-via-Nashville Torres without falling into cliché hype. With that in mind, simply put, I was blown away.
Country music is divided between the traditionalists that cite Hank, Waylon, Dolly, and Willie versus the modern top 40 in Blake, Carrie, and T-Rhett. On Wild Sugar, Torres manages to blend traditional outlaw country rock with lyrical hooks that will have both sides of the debate going to battle to claim this album as one of their own.
The backbone of Torres’s lyrics is that she has been there–she has felt these songs she is singing. Love, heartache, longing, life—she’s experienced it all and deftly folds her emotions into her craft, her words carrying an authentic country street cred. There are honky-tonk anthems like title track “Wild Sugar,” channeling the sing-along inducing character of the Dixie Chicks—its breezy banjo leading the upbeat melody. I love the southern country rock soul that shines on “Creeks on Fire” and “Heart on Wheels,” both instantly sparking comparisons to Chris Stapleton’s guitar-fueled, emotion-draped, genre-busting style.
The heart of Wild Sugar is Torres sharing her heart with us—a heart that can sing from experience, passion, and soul. Torres puts her feelings on display and it’s an exhibition that’s not to be missed.
3x IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year and daughter of bluegrass Dale Ann Bradley celebrates her musical heritage with new original tracks, a classic rock cover and a timeless tribute to Bill Monroe.
“I grew up in a tar and paper covered shack right near Loretta Lynn’s childhood home,” reflects Dale Ann Bradley on her rustic origin in the hills of east Kentucky as a hardscrabble preacher’s daughter. ”It was very different. It was not easy,” she says. And even as a girl, she knew she wanted more. With Somewhere South of Crazy (available August 30th), this three-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year shares what has shaped her life and music, by going deeper—deeper into bluegrass, deeper into her own musical passions, deeper into her own history as a veteran entertainer who spent years singing country music alongside her ‘grass at Kentucky’s venerable Renfro Valley.
The result is a set that ranges from first-generation bluegrass classics through long-cherished favorites to brand new songs from Bradley and her friends—but always, always with her incomparably rich voice and east Kentucky sensibilities right at the center.
The title track provided Bradley with some especially enjoyable moments. “We had the best time writing,” she says of writing—and singing—partner Pam Tillis. “I just love her. We sat down, and she had that title line and the idea, and I came up with the melody and some lines—we had worked on a few different things, but this was the one that we finished, and as soon as we did, I knew it was going to be the title track.” Bill Monroe’s “In Despair” may be more unexpected. “I didn’t plan it as a tribute,” Bradley says with a laugh. “But I hope people will think of it as one. I just wanted to showcase a more traditional side of what I do. But I’m glad it’s coming out on his 100th birthday!” The track “Come Home Good Boy” was more intentional and especially poignant, lending itself to Bradley’s first memory of a funeral, when, at age five, a neighbor boy who served with her uncle in Vietnam returned home in a casket.
A smartly selected crew of singers and players frame Bradley’s tender yet muscular singing to perfection. A couple of her regular bandmembers—harmony singer Kim Fox and banjo man Mike Sumner—make appearances, and so do supple, inventive musicians like the Infamous Stringdusters’ Andy Hall, ace studio fiddler Stuart Duncan, bass stalwart Mike Bub, producer Alison Brown (who doubles on guitar and banjo) and, perhaps most surprisingly yet appropriately, young mandolin phenomena Sierra Hull. All those elements come together in the partnership here with singer, guitarist, songwriter and friend Steve Gulley. “We grew up together,” Bradley notes. “Steve and me—we each know what the other one’s going to do.” Yet as strong as the supporting cast is, the focus is, as always, on Dale Ann and the songs she’s chosen—and as always, they’re a deliciously varied bunch.
To a listener unfamiliar with her unique ability to pull songs from the rock vaults and make them her own, Seals & Crofts’ ‘Summer Breeze,’ will undoubtedly be the biggest surprise, but Bradley sees it as a natural. “I’ve always wanted to do that song,” she says. “I don’t pick out a rock tune just for the sake of having one—it has to be one that I always grew up with, or one that I hear that strikes me as fitting into the mix. Sometimes a melody or lyric will just have that feel, just lend itself to the banjo or something like that—like this one, it almost sounds Celtic to me.”
Some songs, like “I Pressed Through The Crowd” and “Will You Visit Me On Sundays,” have been in Bradley’s repertoire for years, yet were never recorded until now. “I was so tickled when Alison gave the o.k. to ‘Sundays,’” she notes, “because it brings back the traditional country that Steve and I have been singing together for a long, long time. And of course, ‘I Pressed Through The Crowd’—I’ve been doing that one for a long time, and it just keeps getting more and more meaningful to me.” Others are more recent. ‘Leaving Kentucky’ was, ironically enough, started in Nashville, but finished after Bradley moved back to Kentucky.
She grew up in southeastern Kentucky and has lived in the Bluegrass State for most of her life; her father was a coal miner and Baptist minister. Bradley auditioned unsuccessfully for the New Coon Creek Girls in 1988 and then spent the next couple of years working as a solo artist in Renfro Valley. She finally joined New Coon Creek in 1991 and performed on the group’s 1994 Pinecastle Records debut, The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore. Bradley‘s first solo album, East Kentucky Morning, came out in 1997 and largely consisted of compositions by Dale Ann Bradley and New Coon Creek ally Vicki Simmons. The project also featured a celebrated take on U2‘s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which helped the album go Top Ten on both the Gavin Americana and Bluegrass Unlimited charts and earn high critical praise.
In 2004, Bradley released the gospel-themed album Send the Angels via Mountain Home Records. Bradley next signed with the independent label Compass Records, which would bring out her next three albums — 2006’s Catch Tomorrow, 2009’s Don’t Turn Your Back, and 2011’s Somewhere South of Crazy. In 2007, Bradley was named Female Bluegrass Vocalist of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual awards; she would go on to win the award four more times, in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012. Bradley struck a new recording deal in 2015 with the respected bluegrass label Pinecastle Records. Pinecastle would release Pocket Full of Keys in 2015, which went on to be nominated for a Grammy Award as Best Bluegrass Album. In 2017, she returned with an album simply titled Dale Ann Bradley.
Two legends of country music will join forces for one album on July 7th when traditional country artist Daryle Singletary, and the “Queen of Bluegrass” Rhonda Vincent release a duets album called American Grandstandvia Upper Management Music. Along with the album, the duo will also make a round of public performances together.
“I’ve always loved singing with DaryleSingletary,” says Rhonda Vincent.“He’s one of the greatest singers in this generation of country music. It’s so fun to sing with someone who challenges me as a singer. The songs were given great thought, along with one that was totally unexpected. It’s one of the best projects I’ve ever been part of. I am so proud of this recording, and I cannot wait for the world to hear our wonderful creation.”
Vincent and Singletary have collaborated with each other often in the past, both live and in the studio. The songs selected for the duets album range from more obscure tracks, to country music duet classics like “After The Fire Is Gone” and “Louisiana Woman Mississippi Man.” The song “One,” which the duo performed on the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman in April has been slotted as the album’s first single.
“Rhonda and I have been singing together since my first CD on Giant Records in 1994,” says Daryle Singletary. “I’ve been a fan of Rhonda’s singing before that, but since then for sure and it’s obvious as she has sung on most of my Indie records as a background vocalist or a duet partner. If you love traditional country music, and remember songs originally sung by well-known duet partners like George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, and Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, this is a must-have CD that we are extremely excited about.”
Jaime Wyatt’s life story is about as country as it gets. After a recording contract fell through when she was 17, Wyatt developed a drug problem that ended in her robbing her dealer and going to jail. She spent eight months in county jail and came out the other side with a new lease on life—along with the seven tracks that constitute Felony Blues. Those include a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Misery and Gin” and the original composition “Stone Hotel,” an exuberant track about making peace with jail life (“Time holds still at the stone hotel / three free meals on the county bill.
Wyatt was born in Los Angeles but grew up in rural Washington, near Seattle. Country music was a big part of life for her family; distant relatives on her mom’s side even lived in Bakersfield. The capital of California country music’s influence can be heard throughout Felony Blues.
“My mother’s extended family played country in Bakersfield. I never knew that, I was just always drawn to that kind of singing,” Wyatt says of her distinctive twang. “I remember seeing a pedal steel in their trailer, their double wide.”
For all intents and purposes Wyatt is outlaw country through and through. “I just like to take country and fuck it up” she tells me, paraphrasing Shooter Jennings, a good friend of hers. “I try not to get too frustrated with labels on that. I do think it’s funny that the outlaw country thing is so big right now, calling it that even is funny. Most folks don’t know about living outside of the law.”
“What better way is there to express yourself than through music?” asks singer-songwriter Chelsea Williams. Her question is almost rhetorical, as Williams, in full obedience to her heart’s most urgent commands, documents her emotions in song in ways that can feel astonishing. Sometimes those feelings are carefree and luminous; other times they’re troubled and turbulent. But when channeled through her captivating voice and intoxicating melodies, they work their way into the thicket of your senses before coming to rest in your soul.
Whether Williams is the music industry’s best- or worst-kept-secret is open to debate. Sure, she’s performed on The Today Show and has opened for big names such as the Avett Brothers and Dwight Yoakam, and she’s even had a high-profile guest shot on a Maroon 5 video, dueting with Adam Levine on the group’s No. 1 smash “Daylight (Playing For Change).”
But the truly incredible part of the golden-voiced chanteuse’s story has taken place at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, where she’s performed acoustically for the past few years. During these appearances, Williams has managed to move an unprecedented 100,000 copies of her three indie records – Chelsea Williams, Decoration Aisle and The Earth & the Sea. Her customer base has even included the likes of Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard, who was so impressed by what he heard that he bought a CD. Even one of Williams’ biggest influences, singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow, walked away with an album.
“The Promenade is huge part of my life,” says Williams. “It’s one of the only spots that I know of in Los Angeles that has such a high volume of foot traffic. People are out and about enjoying themselves, and they know that they’re going to hear musicians. It’s incredible when I get comments like, ‘I was having a really bad day, but your music totally brought me out of it.’ That’s what I love about music myself – the ability to take somebody on a journey that they weren’t planning on.”
Kirk Pasich, President of Blue Élan Records, might not have been anticipating such a journey when he first caught one of Williams’ outdoor gigs, but he quickly knew it was one he wanted to take over and over. And so now we have Williams’ debut on Blue Élan, Boomerang, a thoroughly winning and transcendent mix of Americana, indie-folk and lush pop that places the young artist front and center among the preeminent performers of the day. “My aim with this record was to maintain integrity, creatively and musically,” she states. “I wanted to let creativity rule the process and not be afraid to step outside of what was expected of me.”
Williams musical journey began early. Born in Columbus, Ohio, she was still an infant when her mother picked her up for a move to Glendale, California. “My mom had dreams of being a songwriter herself,” she explains. “She was always writing and playing guitar and singing around the house. I used to fall asleep in the living room while listening to her playing music with her friends. I think it all sort of seeped into my head and stayed with me.”
It wasn’t long before Williams joined in on her mother’s living room jams. “It just seemed very natural to me,” she says. “Music always pulled me in. We would go to Disneyland, and I would always run toward the stage whenever a band was playing. I just wanted to be a part of it.” Her mother’s CD collection – Carole King, Todd Rundgren and James Taylor were favorites – made the first impression on Williams, but she soon discovered Bob Dylan. “We didn’t agree on Dylan,” Williams laughs. “I think my mother didn’t like his voice, but it seemed so beautiful to me.”
By the age of 13, Williams took up the guitar and started writing her own first songs. “It seemed so normal to me because that’s what my mom and her friends were doing,” she remembers. “I didn’t even worry about whether what I was writing was good or bad. I just enjoyed doing it.” In high school, her listening habits included solo artists such as Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan and Elliott Smith, but she eventually discovered bands like Radiohead and the Pixies. Williams recalls how hanging out with the “indie rock kids” at school led to an interesting musical exchange: “I introduced them to Dylan, and they hipped me to Death Cab for Cutie. It was pretty cool.”
Even before graduation, Williams hit the local clubs and coffee houses, and once she had her diploma in hand she made her way onto the stages of Hollywood, performing at the Knitting Factory, Hotel Café, Room 5, and On the Rocks. “They were great learning experiences, but in truth, I didn’t like to play those gigs,” she explains. “They didn’t pay very well, and you oftentimes had to go out of pocket just for the chance to be seen and heard.” Williams discovered that busking on the streets of Glendale offered a better opportunity to get her music across. “There were people walking around with Starbucks cups, and you had little kids trying to break dance,” she says. “The people really listened.” From there, she decided to take her act to the burgeoning outdoor scene of the Third Street Promenade.
With the Santa Monica Pier and the Pacific Ocean as her backdrop, Williams truly found her voice. Recording her music on her own (“I did a lot on my computer with GarageBand”), she found enthusiastic buyers willing to lay down $5 and $10 a CD. Connections were made – people gave her business cards and asked her to sing on sessions – one of them being producer Toby Gad, famous for his work with Beyonce and Natasha Bedingfield. The two worked on a collection of songs that yielded a full album, which strangely enough, resulted in Williams’ first taste of heartbreak.
“Toby pitched me to Interscope, and they bit,” she explains. “They said, ‘We love you and we love the album, and we want to release it as soon as possible.’ I was thrilled.” And then, a perplexing thing happened… as in nothing happened. “The label wanted me to do more writing, which I did, but then it became obvious that they weren’t going to release the album,” she says. “I couldn’t understand it.”
At first, Williams was crushed and even briefly considered quitting music (“I considered becoming a geologist”), but after extricating herself from the deal she realized it was all for the best. “After I got some distance from the album I’d recorded, I felt like it didn’t represent me anymore,” she says. “So I dusted myself off and hit the streets again, and after a while things came back around.”
By the time Williams met up with Kirk Pasich at the Promenade, she had a batch of new songs that would fully reflect her commitment to processing emotions with honesty, courage, hope and humor. Working with producer and multi-instrumentalist Ross Garren (Kesha, Ben Folds, Benmont Tench), she turned those songs into Boomerang, an album that grows in depth and meaning with each listen.
On the wistful pop symphony opener “Angeles Crest,” Williams paints a vivid picture of her childhood, envisioning the mountains she and her mother once drove by. With clear-eyed perception she looks back at the road once traveled and stares down the future on “Fool’s Gold” (“I wrote it right when I parted ways with my prior label. It’s me processing the situation”). Opening her throat with the bracing line “I was frozen by a mighty cold wind,” Williams further recounts that painful label experience on the aching country ballad “Dreamcatcher.” “Out of Sight” is a striking, chilling piece of torch-song blues, on which she casts off a previous personal entanglement with the mantra “out of sight, out of mind.” But on the buoyant, aptly titled “Rush” she finds herself caught up in the dizzying first flush of a new love. “It’s all about being in that moment,” she says, “all the crazy fears and hopes that come with the possibilities of a relationship.”
A stronger, wiser but no less hopeful Williams looks back on the recording of Boomerang thusly: “For me, this record has been an exercise in taking the reins and forging my own path in music and in life. I had never been given a record budget that came with so much creative control before. With that kind of freedom came a greater sense of responsibility and a greater pride in the work we were creating. I am so proud of the record Ross and I created.”
And with a characteristic note of levity, she adds, “I’m so happy that I didn’t give up music to become a geologist.”
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.