Kara Jackson Asks Big Questions Through Bold Production on Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love Prove Captivating

The multi-hyphenate’s debut LP captivates listeners through fearless songwriting and collaboration

Music Reviews Kara Jackson
Kara Jackson Asks Big Questions Through Bold Production on Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love Prove Captivating

Much ink has been spilled on young women’s music and its “rawness.” Rawness is revered; channeling emotions through music, while obfuscating how curated those revelations are in the songwriting, is an artistic achievement. But, the discursive application of “rawness” alludes to the quality being gendered and racialized, unsubtly suggesting that off-the-cuff emotions in the music industry are reserved for, primarily, young white women. Rawness is fraught and often minimizes the agency of singer/songwriters; too often, it forecloses the possibility of praise for emotional vulnerability from women of color, primarily Black women. It’s a reductive, exclusive critical urge.

What the Chicago-based interdisciplinary writer and musician Kara Jackson accomplishes on her debut LP Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love is not “raw,” at least not in the sense that the writing is unrefined or off-the-cuff. Instead, that distinction comes through how the listener is made to feel listening to Jackson’s cosmic country jams. Lines like “Some people take lives to be recognized” are delivered with nonchalance, and the way she belts “don’t you bother me” over swirling harp notes elicits chills. Jackson is communicating her message with precise orchestration for optimal impact. As a listener, you may feel exposed, maybe even singled out.

Jackson starts Why Does The Earth Give Us People to Love with “recognized,” a lo-fi exercise contemplating what people do for validation and why. As she and her piano arpeggiate, she raises the stakes. It contrasts with the lush “no fun/party,” where her theatrical voice balances with a racing guitar and reclining strings. She reckons with men who won’t rise to the occasion and take that out on her and, as much as she laments the loss of companionship, she remembers that the other person is just as liable to miss her, too.

Across the album, Jackson’s expert guitar work and lyricism reveals an extensive archive of her relationships with peers, partners and more who she’s entrusted with her love. Many of those people are men who’ve mishandled that love. “Dickhead Blues” speaks on it with the necessary crassness required to describe exactly what these men, and their antics, resemble. They’re pompous, self-absorbed, ignorant. With every passing note, she grows more courageous, promising to swear off foolish boys. In turn, the track’s classic blues stylings are unforgettable. “Therapy” is the briefest foray into the all-too-familiar archetype of men who trauma dump on their new partners, especially at the expense of the relationship’s health without opening their own ears. After such mistreatment, Jackson is resolute in her self-worth, concluding “…I’m the gold and you’re just a fool” over bright shakers and slide guitar.

Perhaps the most nakedly devastating passage appears on the title track, where Jackson addresses the cruelty of death. She’s open about the tragedies she’s experienced: the death of her best friend and supportive relatives, the racist necropolitics that policymakers let run wild when they grew weary of the pandemic. She asks: “Why does the earth give us people to love and give them a sickness that kills / Why does the earth make us pay for the dirt? Are you saying the dead pay bills?” Few songs call out the terror inflicted on families and communities where death has a price; how finances augmenting trauma can be explored over an entire album.

“Lily,” one of the album’s briefer moments, has its own power that shines between the record’s broadest tracks. It’s a gentle march —celebrating eternal friendship —and stands out from Jackson’s explorations of betrayal and tragedy. Her encounters with grief are multiple and multifaceted, threatening her concept of herself, making it harder and harder and harder to love again. While the world presents us with new people to love just as quickly as it takes them away, Jackson concludes that loving is still a noble pursuit. With “Lily,” she reminds us why the earth gives us those affections and relationships, despite all the tribulations they may bring.

Jackson’s first release, A Song for Every Chamber of the Heart, revealed her skillful songwriting and nuanced viewpoint over four tracks, each lasting fewer than three minutes. It’s an outstanding sampler. On Why Does the Earth Give Us People To Love, she intersperses brief exercises like “therapy” and “liquor” between sprawling mini-symphonies, like the country drama “rat” and the restrained, delicate “free.” It’s a distinct privilege to hear Jackson capture an idea and explore its lyrical possibilities over songs that command a presence. The breadth adds extra opportunity for her Chicago collaborators — legends like Kaina Castillo, Sen Morimoto and Macie Stewart, to name a few — to give Jackson’s songs a storybook quality. When she is solo, she is a force. With her friends’ help, the result is divine.

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