"Jackson" from Wyoming Territory by Kristina Stykos

Some musicians are searchers but many give up after awhile. Some morph into other avenues of their art: writing, teaching, recording or producing. Others simply find other careers. Still, there are those who acknowledge it as their true calling and let the flow from the Source guide them on.

Sixto Rodriguez made 2 LP’s for Buddah Records in the early 70’s only to have them virtually ignored in the States while someone bootlegged a half-million copies of them on another continent. As he was raising a family on odd jobs for 30 years in Detroit, some persistent fans on a mission tracked him down in the late 90’s to bring him triumphantly back to South Africa where, it turned out, he was bigger than Elvis. In one of his songs he wrote:

“Cause they told me everybody’s got to pay their dues

And I explained that I had overpaid them” [1]

In Vermont we might say: “I guess, probably”

So that brings us to Kristina Stykos’ brilliant album Wyoming Territory and more specifically the third song, “Jackson”. Every time I play the CD, it stays on repeat for two or three rounds, the album continues on and I still go back and play it again. Were I a traditional music reviewer, I might take the classic approach; start from the beginning and write about the project as a whole. But I’m not.

From the first sweep of the two guitars, one acoustic and one electric, this is an invitation to an Americana soul journey. It’s like someone just opened a window and let in a fresh breeze of rarified air. This is an air not filled with the latest mantra that will set you free but a general consortium of wisdom and observations on this familiar journey we call life. It speaks to those of us willing to ask the questions but not afraid to take the steps that have no blueprint or conclusion. This song is like a funnel that, as you listen, you just flow though it.

Stykos, the acoustic guitarist and storyteller calmly begins:

I left my home backcountry
Been drinking water straight from holes
Tonight I just been thinking some
Staring in the coals 

Summer heat it’s lost its hold
I’m rolling off the mountain like a boulder
My heart is aching and I think you know
I’m heading back to Jackson[2]

I have always been drawn to the wanderer that knows not where they’re going but simply knows the present, yet if one remains in the present and remains stagnant, they will die inside. And nothing cures this ailment except the departure - the escape.

To the chorus, enter the cryptic hypnotic language of the poet’s soul:

What you said is what you’ve done
If I drew the wrong conclusion
May god bring me gently down
And humor my confusion

But he has never felt the peace,
The presence of the light
Or seen the color of your skin
Or reached for you at night[3]

Questioning ‘god’ while informing us of the ‘presence of the light’? Well, I don’t mess with that stuff; I just honor the soul that has gained that information and bow my head.

In a segue, Vermont’s skillful keyboard doctor Chas Eller (Kilimanjaro) offers some fills to cascade into cross-country deliverance:

Big Horn valley steal my life
Too many shots and one long night
Got to see if my hunch is right
Push further west to Jackson [4]

The second half of the next chorus is reminiscent of the way Bob Dylan uses borrowed lines from old time songs:

May he make my horse to fly
and swiftly cross the prairie
But never say she was a fool
To think that she could marry[5]

For the main break, the funnel expands. In the classic double leads of country music, Newbury Vermont fiddler Patrick Ross (Hot Flannel) enters stage left and provides some provocative lightness of being until veteran lap steeler Mark Spencer (Son Volt) takes over with the result feeling like two stones fitted neatly in an olde fieldstone wall.

I love the meter of this next stanza where the love of the land is not to be denied:

        Any other pathway

              Through tarnished hills and canyon

                    Couldn’t have made me to find

                           A handsomer companion[6] 

The song concludes with a reprise of the first chorus, telling god off one more time with the promise of sleeping next to a warm body in this lifetime.

Suddenly, every instrument is at its zenith, rising as one for the spiraling outro. The piano‘s glistening harp-like chord riffs, the lap steel beckoning with a dazzling roll, and finally Ross’ free-flowing fiddle rides gently into the inevitable fade. I got the impression the whole band would’ve taken this song to Montana if they were given a chance but I guess we’ll have to wait for the live version someday.

The rhythm section finds Spencer also on bass guitar, deftly pushing this country rocker with fluid riffs. The pace is made whole with Jeff Berlin’s (Bow Thayer) percussion and drums that moves with the confidence of a mountain stream, choreographed likes gears shifting in an old pick up truck. Patrick Ross may be one of the north country's most versatile fiddler's but he surely has Nashville in his blood. Spencer's lap steel /electric guitar is richly steeped in quiet thunder while saying nothing more than the moment requires; Chas Eller’s piano encases the song in a graceful honky-tonk spirit, and Stykos’ acoustic guitar brings the folk out of country while her hand-hewn vocals reveal both her vulnerability and a hard edge that takes no prisoners.

Yes, the rest of the album is just as good and a few others have made that claim. But as you see, I’ve got over a 1000 words written already and that’s enough for this blog. Still, I am grateful for the space here, as no editor would ever let me write about just one song – except the good folks at No Depression.

[1] “Cause” by S. Rodriguez


[2] Liner Notes, Wyoming Territory, Thunder Ridge Records

[3] Liner Notes, Wyoming Territory

[4] Liner Notes, Wyoming Territory

[5] Liner Notes, Wyoming Territory

[6] Liner Notes, Wyoming Territory


[7] Liner Notes, Wyoming Territory

Views: 196

Tags: Country, Folk, Lap, Mark, Outlaw, Rock, Son, Spencer, Steel, Stykos, More…Vermont, Volt, Wyoming

Comment by Patsy Raney on March 25, 2014 at 9:31pm

I love this!  Thanks for the post, and turning me on to this artist and this amazing song.

Comment by Spencer Lewis on March 26, 2014 at 10:36am

wow, most welcome...she'll be pleased to know as well.


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.