With an old-soul collection of self-penned story songs and an entrancing syrup-and-sandpaper vocal rasp, it’s hard to listen to Jade Jackson’s Gilded and not picture her as a seasoned veteran wistfully looking back over a lifetime filled with more downs than ups. On the contrary, Jackson’s debut album is an arresting introduction for this young songwriter that showcases her gift for melodic storytelling and her grasp of the beauty found in a song sung blue. Reminiscent of Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, Jackson’s somber songs unfold with the easy grace of dusty sunsets and open-road drives, while her more spirited numbers are driven by a punk swagger (“Good Time Gone”) and a south-of-the-border slink (“Troubled End”).
Effortlessly fluctuating between the disparate personas of a confident spitfire and a wide-eyed ingénue, Jackson writes songs that beautifully strike the balance between determined perseverance and an openness to lessons she has yet to learn. With immediately accessible lyrics that deal with themes that are diary-level personal – “I’d shoot out the sun if I had someone to walk in the dark with” (“Bridges”) – and ones that are engagingly universal – “Waking up for the first time is when you don’t stop running at the finish line” (“Finish Line”), Jackson writes in a way that allows the listener to find out as much about themselves as they do about her. Melancholic nostalgia runs hand-in-hand with forward-facing optimism throughout, as Jackson sings lines like “Please don’t cry, boy/it’s been fun but my motorcycle only seats one” (“Motorcycle”) and “Lord, when will my tides turn?/Let me walk over the bridges I’ve burned” (“Bridges”) with equal conviction.
Instrumentally, the 11 songs on Gilded are an intoxicating sonic mixture of classic country, rustic Americana, west coast punk, coffeehouse folk and more, an amalgam that Jackson credits to an upbringing soundtracked by her father’s record collection that was rich with Hank Williams, Bruce Springsteen, George Jones, The Smiths and The Gun Club. However, it was Jackson’s first concert of her own choosing—Social Distortion at age 13—that proved to be career-defining (and prophetically foreshadowing). A decade later, Jackson performed at an inconspicuous coffeehouse gig where the wife and son of Social D’s Mike Ness were in attendance. The punk rock legend loved Jackson’s sound and offered to work with her, eventually going on to produce Gilded. Ness’ creative genius is strongly felt throughout the album—especially in his deft use of country-tinged atmospherics and instrumental space—and he even contributes some incendiary guitar work on the lively “Good Time Gone.”
Along with Ness’ guiding presence, Gilded is also buoyed by additional instrumental input from old hands like Sara Watkins (who plays fiddle on five songs) and Greg Leisz (who contributes some tasty pedal steel to “Finish Line”). While this is Jackson’s first notable release, she’s actually been writing and performing for over a decade – a fact that lends credence and context to the heightened level of maturity and sophistication that, while not often found on a debut album, is in overabundance here.