Jenifer Jackson Brings Her Erudite Texas Americana Charm to the New York Outskirts
The plushly ambiguous cover image of Jenifer Jackson’s latest and tenth album, aptly titled Cloud Ten – streaming at Bandcamp – speaks volumes. Look closely and you’ll see a furry cat! There’s a feline grace, and playfulness, and warmth, and hominess to the cutting-edge Americana songcraft and performances on this charming, irresistibly engaging new collection of songs. As a bonus, Jackson plays not only her usual guitar but also piano, drums and for the first time, ukulele. On her current US tour, she’s bypassing Manhattan for an intimate house concert on May 18 at 7 PM at 11 Bollenbecker Road in Rhinebeck. Westchester dwellers and adventurous city people can get information and rsvp here. She’s also doing house concerts on the 19th and 20th in Ancramdale and New Paltz, respectively.
Curmudgeons beware: she’s going to get you smiling like a big Texas sunrise, and asking yourself in astonishment, “Did they really just play what I think they did?” whether you like it or not. Which isn’t what you might expect from someone with such an extensive back catalog of thoughtfully crafted, often melancholy songs. Her career’s taken her from Beatlesque nuevo bossa nova, to harrowing folk noir, to classic Brill Building style pop, slinky psychedelia, blue-eyed soul, and now the Americana she’s been mining for such rich results over the last few years. Joining the brain drain out of New York City, her move to Austin in 2007 jumpstarted a career that had critics swooning but had reached critical mass in the big city. Cloud Ten reconfirms how fertile the Texas landscape has been for one of the most prolific, irrepressibly fun and unselfconsciously brilliant tunesmiths working today.
The innumerable little touches define this album. You might expect to hear multi-instrumentalist Kullen Fuchs’ good-naturedly purist honkytonk guitar in the vintage C&W sway of Pen to Paper, but probably not his glimmery Mad Men era vibraphone. But you get both! The Texas shuffle groove and Jackson’s own piano mingling with classic Beatles allusions in Love Me Best; hints of Laurel Canyon psychedelia and coy 50s exotica in the bossa-flavored Coriander; a little later, Jackson and Fuchs’ coyly aphoristic duet on the album’s title track makes gently narcotized uke indie-pop out of a classic western swing theme.
Some touches are somewhat more traditionally oriented to the various styles she expands on here, but no less apt. The elegantly rippling George Harrison Abbey Road lead guitar amidst her vividly summery fingerpicking in the Britfolk-tinged River Road; Fuchs’ deep floodwaters of accordion throughout Gravity, a lilting lullaby. Longtime Johnny Cash collaborator Earl Poole Ball’s elegant Floyd Cramer slip-key piano mingles with glockenspiel, enhancing the gently crepuscular ambience of Only in Dreams; Jesse Ebaugh’s deep-sky pedal steel on the sharply lyrical Wondering, which looks back to Townes Van Zant outlaw balladry. Perhaps the album’s most striking if shortest track is the wary, austere Birdy’s Lament, Fuchs’ melodica taking the song into surrealistic early 70s folk-rock terrain. Its most period-perfect is Mother Nature, a spot-on evocation of early 60s honkytonk.
Jackson draws on the multicultural fabric of her adopted state with two songs in Spanish: the tender, bolero-tinted Sabor a Mi and the gentle Bahia/Veracruz mashup Como Fue, Fuchs’ trumpet sailing overhead. It’s as heartwarming as it is just plain fun to hear this genuine American treasure continuing to evolve and keep audiences entertained: if there’s any album released this year that makes you reach for the repeat button, this is it.