Country music is a strange old beast. No other genre of music instantly conjures nostalgia and warmth in quite the same way, yet at the same time no other genre of music has been deemed almost permanently unfashionable by the mainstream. (Johnny Cash aside) You have to ask yourself how music that at its core represents honesty, individuality, a sense of love and a sense of home be so overlooked?

Thankfully, there are artists like Jade Jackson heading a new wave of talented artists making this way of thinking look more and more ridiculous. It’s been two years since Jackson released her critically acclaimed debut Gilded but the Southern California native has returned as an artist at the peak of her powers with new album Wilderness. In a slight deviation from her first album Jackson has dug deep within herself for inspiration, and the results are captivating. Just days after her twentieth birthday she suffered an accident while out hiking, leaving her with serious physical injuries but it was the metal battles that lay ahead which left the biggest mark. Long after her body had healed physically Jackson was left dealing with an increasing dependency on pain medication, an eating disorder, as well as a prolonged period of serious depression. The singer herself describes her mind state at the time as “suicidal.” But like many of her country heroes before her, Jackson has channelled all of this personal anguish and resilience into her music.

Wilderness is an album steeped in the traditions and history of country music, but it refuses to be confined by them. The DNA of the likes of Cash, Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings course through the veins of the record but it’s Jackson that elevates the twelve songs above mere nostalgia. While respecting and in many ways paying homage to the past, the singer effortlessly makes her bid to move Country into the future. The album kicks off with it’s lead single, and the wonderfully up tempo Bottle It Up, song that perfectly captures that sweet spot between independence and the contentment in a relationship of knowing you’ve also got someone with you along for the ride. Throughout the album Jackson lays bare her insecurities and apprehensions but underneath it all there is a feeling of defiance, and that everything will be alright. This is something which really comes to the fore on tracks like Don’t Say That You Love Me and Multiple Choice, with the latter also featuring some stellar guitar work alongside Jackson’s smooth and bewitching vocal.

The first half of the record positively skips along, with the slick and polished production of Social Distortion’s Mike Ness weaving one track effortlessly into the next. It is only with the arrival of ballad Dust that the pace finally slows. Dust is one of the real pillars of the album alongside the opener, Loneliness and Secret. It is those four tracks which signpost and act as a guide for the listener through the record. They all touch on the central themes of the album and are the cornerstones which the rest of the project is built around. Dust picks up on the idea of uncertainty, while Loneliness, and Secret in particular, explore personal struggle, but again underpinned by determination and defiance.

There’s a great ebb and flow to Wilderness that cannot be understated. With the album’s subject matter coming from such a personal and at times dark place it is easy to get bogged down in all that pent-up emotion but it’s a pitfall that’s navigated with ease. This is demonstrated in fine style as Jackson sets her inner country outlaw free on Long Way Home before the deep and meaningful feelings return for the album’s final stretch.

Each person who listens to Wilderness will take from it something different. Yes, the overarching themes are pretty much clear for all to see but how these are interpreted will come down to the individual. However, what is not open to debate is that Jackson has mined her soul for the material to build this record, and it’s that honesty and openness that makes it the undoubted success that it is. In the same way that the greats of yore laid bare their lives in the recording booth, Jackson takes us on a journey through a story of at times anguish, at times uncertainty, but also unwavering determination.

It is very difficult to overstate how good this album is. Both lyrically and sonically, Wilderness is a triumph. Only in time will we be able to properly assess the album’s impact and legacy, but there is a very real possibility that it’s one of the best country albums of the last decade. Country has a new first lady, and her name is Jade Jackson.

10/10

For fans of: Johnny Cash, Lydia Loveless, Linda Ortega
Words by James Holder

‘Wilderness’ by Jade Jackson is released on 28th June on Anti- Records.

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