Jade Jackson may be the next big country-rock star
Santa Margarita, Calif. – 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 to anything, 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.
At this moment, Jade, 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.
On Friday, Jackson released her sophomore album, “Wilderness,” on the L.A.-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 long-running 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.”
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 run.“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.
Her lyrics and her singing often display strength and purity of expression, but in the song “Dust,” for instance, she also allows some cracks around the edges of her voice that reveal vulnerability in a way reminiscent of Lucinda Williams.
There’s often a sense of wide-open spaces and possibilities, literally and psychologically, in her songs.
She shows no interest in being coddled in love – “I’ve been here before,” she sings in “Tonight,” “And boys like you make me wanna spend my nights alone” – yet she stops short of the don’t-get-mad-get-even school of romantic retribution that’s been the calling card for Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and several others. (She does have a boyfriend, but they have an understanding that music is her top priority now.)
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.
Ness’ role in Jackson’s music, and her life, is another extension of her family-centric world: His wife, Christine, went to high school with Jackson’s mother.
So when Jade’s “overprotective” – her word – parents finally allowed her as a teenager to go to her first concert without parental chaperones, she chose a Social Distortion concert in nearby San Luis Obispo.
It was a transformative experience for the girl who’d been writing songs in her room on an acoustic guitar to relieve the boredom that can come with life in a small town (Santa Margarita’s population was 1,259 as of the 2010 census).
‘I was pretty socially awkward, so I just kind of like found my place and stood there the whole time and watched him,” she recalled. “I had never felt like I really had a voice, and so I was like, maybe that’s how I can find confidence.”
As Jackson began performing more frequently, Christine Ness urged her husband to look in on her old friend’s daughter. When he did, he was interested enough to step in and mentor her, even before he became her producer.
“He’s really taken it upon himself to just help guide me through all this, and I feel super grateful,” Jackson said as other restaurant workers began setting out salt and pepper shakers and place settings on tables.
“Everything challenging,” she said just before getting up to tie an apron around her waist and eyeball the specials list one more time before approaching the first table of the night, “is going to make you better in the end.”