In the Fall-Winter 2018 No Depression print journal, there was a fantastic article on cowpunk, the musical subgenre that merges the sonic and visual aesthetics of punk and country-blues. Author Chris Parker does a fantastic job tracing the history of cowpunk from its beginnings to the present day, rightly starting with two focal points: the Bakersfield Sound of the 1950s and seminal punk band X in the late ’70s.
It’s a framework continued and built upon by 27-year-old Central California-based singer-songwriter Jade Jackson. Brought up on Springsteen’s Nebraska and SoCal punk rockers Social Distortion alike, Jackson’s musical pursuits were an amalgam of both. And in recent years they’ve earned a crucial booster.
If you split the difference between Jackson’s 2017 debut LP Gilded and X, you’ll find Mike Ness, the mastermind of the aforementioned Social Distortion. Between his body of work with Social D and as a more straightforward, classic country-inspired solo artist, Ness is in many ways the archetypical figure of the sound and style of cowpunk.
Ness produced Gilded. That album firmly planted Jackson in the mold of world-weary country-rockers like Lucinda Williams. Gilded was a solid first album, establishing Jackson as an artist whose artistic development was worth keeping an eye on. As it turns out, the release set the stage nicely for a stronger second album.
Wilderness, Jackson’s follow-up album, improves upon Gilded. Whereas sometimes Gilded could feel a little stiff, a little stilted, Wilderness (and producer Ness) better highlights Jackson’s warm, confident vocal delivery by accompanying it with better, looser, and more rough-and-tumble arrangements. This musical upgrade helps to draw out the punk-rock bona fides Jackson has picked up working with Ness and touring with Social Distortion and merge them with her skills as a throwback ’70s-style country chanteuse.
Album opener and lead single “Bottle it Up” covers themes of loneliness, self-sufficiency, and discovery, fairly standard lyrical topics. But it’s anchored by a driving rhythm section that gives it a harder-edged sensibility that helps make it worth repeat listening. This commitment to giving the songs a little more of a backbeat rhythm keeps Wilderness lively. The title track best exemplifies this concept, as its, well, wild energy enhances the lyrics’ themes of running headlong into the unknown and taking chances.
But the real gem of Wilderness is closing track “Secret.” It’s the most dynamic song on the album. Jackson’s voice soars over the swirling melody, as she seethes and laments her current situation. She closes it out by yearningly crooning, “And all, all the walls inside me fell down / I don’t want my bones to be buried in this town.” It ties everything together: the restless spirit that lies inside Jackson, her artistic growth, and Ness’ abilities as a producer to help a young talent put her own imprint on a style he’s helped to inspire and influence.
Songs like that and Jackson’s continued progression make Wilderness an album worth checking out.