Experimentation is the lifeblood of any artist, and when ideas suddenly coalesce into something that until that moment seemed beyond reach, it casts an entirely new light on their identity.
Although over the course of her 15-year recording career Lynn Jackson has primarily been known as an acoustic troubadour, she has never been afraid to resist that tag, particularly with her most recent work. On her 11th release, Lionheart, Jackson strikes a perfect balance, drawing from the diverse musical talent pool in her native Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, with the results adding up to her most dynamic and satisfying collection of songs to date.
With the irresistibly melodic roots rocker “Running It Down” setting the tone at the album’s outset, Jackson colours Lionheart’s other 11 tracks with unique sonic touches, from the stripped down traditional folk of “Stormy Eyes,” to the sultry, minor key blues of “Outcast,” to the hard-edged rock of “Sometimes It’s OK.” Having worked with Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins in the producer’s chair—along with members of Skydiggers and other notable Toronto roots rock figures—on her acclaimed 2017 album Follow That Fire, Jackson chose to stay closer to home with Lionheart, taking control of the production reins with a specific vision in mind.
“Working with Michael was great, but a year after that I got involved in a raunchy, live-off-the-floor rock ‘n roll project with my friend Chris Colvin called Shipwreck Radios,” Jackson explains. “I wanted to work with Chris again, and that led to inviting a lot of other musicians from the K-W scene I’ve known and admired to participate. In producing an album on my own, which I’ve done in the past, I find a big part of it is matching players with songs—who’s more rock, who’s more blues, soul, folk, etc. So in that sense it really became a community effort.”
With drummer Jonny Sauder and bassist Scott Fitzgerald of blues stalwarts Elliott & The Audio Kings anchoring the rhythm section, Lionheart’s guest list includes the Motown-inspired vocal group the Divines, string players Wendy Wright and Alison Corbett, and saxophonist Don Featherstone. They, and other musicians on the album, beautifully enhance the depth of Jackson’s lyrics, which continue to mature with each record she makes.
“I never sit down and set out to write an album,” she says. “I just write songs as they come to me, and I let them be whatever they want to be. Some are more rootsy-folk sounding, some are rock, some are fingerpicking ballads. They’re all over the map; I write on both acoustic and electric guitars. However, I always, without exception, write the lyrics first. Some are fiction when I’m in story-telling mode, or some are just reactions to what I’m experiencing at that moment. But I feel like even if I’m telling a story from a character’s perspective or about a character, I think honesty is key to ultimately connecting with audiences.”
Along with the aforementioned standout tracks, Jackson points to the song “Cobwebs” as a prime example of breaking free from the typical folk singer formula. A tough, poetically dense rocker that channels both Lou Reed and Chrissie Hynde, it offers some valuable life lessons such as, “Love means always having to watch your back,” and “When you think you’ve got it all figured out, you’re not even close.”
“One night I was skimming through my lyric notebooks looking at little bits I had highlighted here and there,” she says. “I decided that I wanted them all, or most of them, to see the light of day somehow. So I put them together, and it filled up two full pages. Of course, the challenge then became how to fit them all into one song. The answer was to pull out my electric guitar, write a simple and upbeat chord progression, and add the words in a combination of singing and speaking. I swear that it wasn’t until six months later that I heard Lou Reed’s ‘Romeo Had Juliette’ for the first time and noticed the similarities!”
It’s not just Reed’s ghost that’s present on Lionheart. Along with a cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” that brilliantly utilizes Wright and Corbett’s dual fiddles, Jackson wrote “The Sound Of Everything” as a tribute to Leonard Cohen, one of her core influences. “I had a gig the night it was announced that Leonard Cohen had died,” she says. “Afterward, I came home to my rehearsal space, opened some wine, and started putting his records on. There was a weird moment when tears started to flow and I picked up my pen just to write anything. It became the first verse of the song, and after I read it a few times, the rest just poured out. I left it for a few months before writing the music, which I kept low key because I thought it suited the words.”
As she has evolved artistically, Jackson admits she’s learned from Cohen and other songwriting icons about the benefits of capturing a moment, rather than belaboring the creative process. As producer of Lionheart, it forced Jackson to walk a fine line between meeting her own high sonic standards while allowing the players’ personalities—including her own—to shine through. That she pulled it off so confidently speaks volumes about how far Jackson has come, and how far she can potentially go.
Lynn Jackson’s Lionheart is just as its title suggests, fierce and tender, courageous and vulnerable, but above all a powerful statement from an artist just beginning to reach their full potential.
Reviews in brief:
Tom Phillips (Calgary, AB Singer-Songwriter ) - June 2020
Great songs. Great band. Great vocals. The whole thing sounds great, so many different instrumental touches too.
The singing is so strong and I really love the sound of the acoustic guitar and where it is in the mix, while the arrangements are fantastic the rhythm guitar and vocals on these wonderful songs could stand alone anywhere!
Chris Connelly (Musician - Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Finitribe) - June 2020
It’s unusual for me as a person who writes songs to find really strong musical connections, connections that are more than the usual, lovely things that unite us as artists ( and I am eternally grateful for that) but, when someone’s song bypasses your ears and just passes gracefully into your soul and your history, then, it’s time to get excited and say THERE IS SOMEONE ELSE ON THIS ISLAND!!!
Oh yes, it’s happened for me with those amazing and incredibly renowned writers, that helped write the BOOK, that we grew up with, Leonard Cohen, Dylan, John Martyn, Nick drake, Lou Reed.Patti smith, Joni, (it’s a long list) But someone doing that now? Oh, they are out there, yes, of course they are, but it can be needle in a haystack stuff…..
Lynn Jackson is such an artist, and she has a new album out, “lionheart”, a beautiful journey, a gritty journey, her heart grips her voice with an iron hold, steers it to the places it has to go, and it steers it to the places it maybe doesn’t want to go, and it’s always, so, so heartbreakingly HUMAN. I have done this for forty fucking years, I KNOW when I hear a soul sing, and I know when I am being lied to as well.
I know I will always write, and knowing that there is a LYNN JACKSON out there makes me feel cosily self righteous and completely vindicated.
Tim Willcox, Kitchener, ON - June 20, 2020.
Really sat and listened to Lynn Jackson 's latest, "Lionheart". Great CD, liner notes, booklet and photos. From the folkie songbird that does Cramps, Ol' Dirty Bastard and Grunge covers, Lynn channels Kurt Cobain on tracks 4 & 6, and Lou Reed on track 11, Cobwebs. Well played folkie guitar lady....well played.
Fervor Coulee - 2017
Damn, she’s good. Great songs, great voice, inspired production: get this one. Fingers crossed: this is Lynn Jackson’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.
Americana UK - 2017
If you like your Americana gothic and compelling this will reward your investment many times over. 8/10
All Music.com - May 2013 - Thom Jurek
Canadian singer/songwriter Lynn Jackson’s catalog has deep Americana roots, in the very best way that tag implies. . . Jackson is an excellent narrative songwriter; she tells stories that the listener can climb inside and inhabit for as long as she wishes, and is haunted by them long after the recording ends. Down in the Dust is full of such moments.
PENGUIN EGGS - DECEMBER 2012
There is something hauntingly familiar about Lynn Jackson’s Down in the Dust. Whether it’s the inspired first cut Paper Airplanes, where Jackson delivers a stellar performance, or the terrific cover of Lawrence KS (Josh Ritter), sliding this CD into the tray feels very comfortable. . . . . it is a well put together package by a talented artist and team.
CBC - NOVEMBER 2012 - BOB MERSEREAU
Jackson’s a strong roots songwriter with five previous albums to her credit, and a growing body of high-quality, emotional and open tunes. . . .it's all connected by fine writing, some soul-deep stuff.
THE WATERLOO REGION RECORD - OCTOBER 2012 - ROBERT REID
With the release of Down in the Dust, her sixth album since 2004, Lynn Jackson has quietly but insistently become one of the most prolific roots artists in this area. . . finely crafted original compositions. The closing, title track sends pricklies up the back of your neck.
NIGHTLIFE - SEPTEMBER 2012
Lynn Jackson, Busted Flat Record’s premier songbird, has had an impressive musical career. Now eight years and six records in, Jackson has developed into a sophisticated songwriter . . . ..She’s no one-trick pony. . ..It’s easy to believe that she’s capable of conquering any adventure she embarks upon.’
Exclaim! Magazine, 2010
On her fifth studio CD, Coming Down (2010), Jackson stretches creatively out of her patented blend of folk-roots into “into more pop-informed territory. . . . potentially reaching a wider audience. Jackson has made a creative breakthough.”
The Waterloo Region Record, 2010
“Coming Down (2010) ventures more deeply into pop – with forays into reggae, funk, blues, Klezmer and jazz – than previous releases. Enjoy the ride and stay tuned.”
Vue Magazine, Edmonton, AB
Soft Stars (2008) is “sweetly urgent honky-tonk infused with lush and unexpected orchestral touches . . . boosted by Jackson’s pliant whiskey ‘n’ honey voice. A deft innovator, Jackson dangles her rootsy tunes into other genres.”
On Restless Days (2007) Jackson offers up “spare poetic mood-songs and a wistful whispery voice that conveys a palette of emotion from longing and regret to freedom and nostalgia.” But it is often her song-writing itself that is the focus of reviews and acclaim.
The Victoria Times Colonist
Restless Days (2007) “Even the arrangements put an emphasis on her words. The rootsy instrumentals are stripped-down and full of delicate acoustic plucking. It allows her high,
fragile voice to take the fore.”
Restless Days (2007) “Lynn Jackson is carrying on a glorious tradition. Like Cash, Dylan,
Cohen, and so many other songwriting pillars before her, Jackson is writing for the people."
Media: Mark Logan, Busted Flat Records