Jade Jackson sets her­self apart from coun­try mu­sic main­stream

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BOOKS - By Randy Lewis

SANTA MAR­GARITA, Cal­i­for­nia — She ped­als her vin­tage pink beach cruiser up to the en­try­way of the Range restau­rant, drops the kick­stand and, with­out paus­ing to chain and lock it, opens a wrought-iron gate and di­rects a vis­i­tor through a fo­liage-cov­ered arch­way onto the cozy pa­tio of her fam­ily’s din­ing es­tab­lish­ment.

Jade Jackson is wear­ing the restau­rant’s stan­dard is­sue brown T-shirt over blue denim jeans and oxblood Western boots. It’s a cou­ple of hours be­fore she’ll tie on an apron and get to work seat­ing guests, in­form­ing them about the tomato bisque soup, arugula-grapefruit salad and sand dabs that are the day’s spe­cials, then tak­ing their or­ders.

Soon, her brother and head chef, Cheynn (pro­nounced Shane), ar­rives to take the helm in the kitchen of the eatery their mother and fa­ther, Jeff and Lindsay Jackson, opened 14 years ago in this ru­ral Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia farm­ing and artist com­mu­nity of 1,259 that oc­cu­pies about half a square mile along El Camino Real roughly 30 miles east of San Luis Obispo.

This night, how­ever, Jackson’s par­ents are tak­ing a rare night off to spend the evening at home with the youngest of their three chil­dren, Au­drey, 23. She’s a vis­ual artist whose work is on ex­hibit across the street in the bar the Jack­sons re­cently opened, Ros­alina, named for Jade’s pa­ter­nal grand­mother.

If it sounds a lot like a fam­ily af­fair, it is — one that ex­tends to other facets of Jackson’s life.

At this mo­ment, Jackson, 27, is en­joy­ing a mo­ment of calm be­fore the Range opens for business at 5, tak­ing time to talk about her other line of work: that of ris­ing singer, song­writer and band­leader.

Jackson has re­leased her sopho­more al­bum, “Wilder­ness,” on the LA-based punk-al­ter­na­tive-Amer­i­cana la­bel Anti-, which also has put out records by Merle Hag­gard, her life­long hero Tom Waits, Mavis Sta­ples, Jeff Tweedy and Neko Case.

“Wilder­ness” is pro­duced, as was her 2017 de­but “Gilded,” by Mike Ness, frontman for lon­grun­ning South­ern Cal­i­for­nia punk band So­cial Dis­tor­tion. His in­flu­ence can be heard in the new al­bum’s sear­ing elec­tric gui­tar sounds and propul­sive rhythm tracks, com­ple­ment­ing the in­ten­sity of Jackson’s cut-to-the-bone singing and song­writ­ing, which have quickly caught the ear of some of the mu­sic in­dus­try’s roots-minded tastemak­ers.

“There’s a real freshness to her sound, and she has a youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance that we like,” said Jeremy Tep­per, pro­gram di­rec­tor for Sir­iusXM satel­lite ra­dio’s Out­law Coun­try chan­nel, which has been play­ing the al­bum’s lead sin­gle, “Bot­tle It Up,” since March and re­cently added the sec­ond sin­gle, “Don’t Say You Love Me,” to the sta­tion’s ro­ta­tion.

“It’s great to have the leg­ends,” said Tep­per, “but young artists like Jade, Tyler Childers, Colter Wall and Ian Noe al­low the mu­sic to evolve.”

Last year, Jackson landed a slot at Stage­coach, the world’s big­gest coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val, put on in In­dio, Cal­i­for­nia, by pro­moter Gold­en­voice at the same site where Coachella un­folds each year.

“I hear the Cal­i­for­nia desert, mys­tery and bo­hemian spirit, not only when I lis­ten to her, but when I see her per­form live,” said Stacy Vee, Gold­en­voice’s di­rec­tor of fes­ti­val talent, who is re­spon­si­ble for book­ing Stage­coach. “She’s got grit, but oh so much glamour in her ap­proach. Her voice is silky but still bites … hard.”

Jackson’s voice bites even harder on “Wilder­ness” than on “Gilded,” as Jackson has grown more con­fi­dent about re­veal­ing thoughts and feel­ings more di­rectly. In “Bot­tle It Up,” she em­ploys a smart dou­ble en­ten­dre that makes it an in­stant honky-tonk classic in the way it crys­tal­lizes the need to stuff painful feel­ings down deep or soften the st­ing with al­co­hol.

“Bot­tle it up the way we feel right now/ When­ever I get lonely gonna drink a lit­tle down,” she sings against a driv­ing coun­try rock back­beat that de­vel­oped while she was out on her daily run­ning routine.

“City Lights,” an­other propul­sive num­ber, vividly ex­presses emotions and fears stem­ming from a hor­rific ac­ci­dent she suf­fered in 2012 when she fell from a rope swing and broke her back. That lifechang­ing event, which took place af­ter she’d just started study­ing mu­sic at CalArts in Va­len­cia — her idea of a fall­back plan in case her pas­sion for writ­ing and singing her own songs didn’t trans­late into a profession­al ca­reer — led to darker places that also sur­face in some of the new songs.

For a time Jackson felt she was becoming too re­liant on pre­scrip­tion painkiller­s, so she quit cold turkey. Then she de­vel­oped an eat­ing dis­or­der and de­pres­sion from the stress of the physical ther­apy along with the emo­tional toll the heal­ing process took. “It was about 18 months of recovery phys­i­cally,” she said, “but men­tally I feel like I didn’t fully re­cover un­til much, much later — un­til I was able to get into ther­apy and fig­ure out my whole eat­ing dis­or­der thing and deal with that.”

She’s now sober and in a health­ier frame of mind and body, but given what she’s ex­pe­ri­enced in her 27 years, it’s not a big sur­prise that Jackson doesn’t have much in com­mon with much of the pop-leaning ma­te­rial fa­vored by main­stream coun­try ra­dio these days.

Part of what sets her apart is ge­og­ra­phy — she’s liv­ing and writ­ing a cou­ple of thou­sand miles from the epi­cen­ter of com­mer­cial coun­try mu­sic — and partly it’s her upbringing.

She and her sib­lings grew up with­out ra­dio or tele­vi­sion, lis­ten­ing in­stead to the collection of records their par­ents had on hand, much of it by classic coun­try artists such as Hank Wil­liams, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Jim­mie Rodgers, Patsy Cline, Way­lon Jen­nings, Wil­lie Nel­son as well as the Cal­i­for­nia con­tin­gent spear­headed by Buck Owens and Merle Hag­gard. Those records spin nightly for din­ers at the Range, via an iPod plugged in to the restau­rant’s sound sys­tem.

“I knew we were go­ing to work re­ally well to­gether be­cause her stuff has al­ways blended in with the old coun­try,” said Ness, whose 1999 solo al­bum, “Un­der the In­flu­ences,” show­cased his affin­ity for vin­tage coun­try, rock­a­billy and blue­grass. “But I also have a sus­pi­cion that she was a blues singer in an ear­lier life, be­cause she sings a lot with a blue note,” he said.

Af­ter a re­cent round of shows she’s home and back to wait­ress­ing, which aids her fam­ily’s restau­rant business and helps her pay the bills while she strives to turn her mu­sic into a full­time gig.

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