by Patrick Finch
Lynn Jackson, Busted Flat Records’ premier songbird, has had an impressive musical career. Now eight years and six records in, Jackson has developed into a sophisticated songwriter; a heavy, emotional voice; and an exemplary band leader. With her newest release, Down In The Dust, Jackson returns to the simpler country roots of her early work. She’s both excited to be back on familiar turf and pleased that she was able to stretch out over her past couple records — proving to herself, and to her fans, that she’s no one-trick pony.
“The last record, I had (frequent collaborator) Chris Boyne, from Sex Dwarf, produce it,” Jackson explains. “Everybody seemed to think it was my poppiest album. It had a funk song, a rock-pop song, some bluesy-rock numbers, and some roots stuff in between. So I think, production-wise, it was a stretch away from what I’d done before. I’ve always had a hand in the production side of my albums and I wanted to … just get a fresh sound.
“(For) the album before that, Soft Stars (2009), I went in with the intention of trying to get it to sound different. Most of the guitar parts that I worked out, I had (multi-instrumentalist) Arun Pal try to come up with a piano part instead, ‘cause I wanted the focus to be away from the guitar and more on the piano, cello, that kind of thing. It ended up being rootsy, but not as much as the albums that came before it, which featured acoustic guitar, Dobro, mandolin, that kind of stuff.”
These excursions into straight pop music and chamber pop may have been a left-turn for those familiar with Jackson’s typical work, but neither those changes, nor her return to her roots, have been premeditated. Like all good songwriters, Jackson is just an antenna, picking the songs from the ether as they come to her.
“I write whatever comes to me and I write all the time,” she says. “So I’ve got jazzy stuff, country stuff, rudimentary blues … I hear different sounds and I just write the song and let it be what it is. When I’ve got enough songs collected, that’s when I decide to make another record. So I don’t believe there are any rules. And of course, the more you practice and the more you learn on your instrument, the more tools you’ve got in your tool-box, so to speak. Definitely when it comes to putting an album together, it just happens.”
Though Down in the Dust is musically a return to her roots, the album takes a radical step forward for Jackson, in that it is her most personal statement yet. She’s had much success with her “story songs” in the past, painting vivid lyrical pictures of the hard-done-by and the hard-living, but on this release, the focus is pointed squarely inward.
“I think it’s a strange kind of evolution,” she says. “When you start out writing, you write about yourself and your experiences because that’s all you know. I think as you mature and you evolve, you get outside of yourself and you write about other characters and other situations. To me, it feels like I’ve done that for a while and now I’m coming back again.”
The focus on her own story serves Jackson’s songs well, particularly on the sparse and stunning heartbreaker Wake Up With The Sun. Here, when she sings “There’s no one holding me down, there’s no one holding me back”, it’s easy to believe that she’s capable of conquering any adventure she embarks upon.
“I just can’t imagine ever not doing it,” she muses. “I go for months where I don’t write anything new and I don’t force myself. If you keep yourself immersed in it, eventually more stuff will come out. I just wait, ‘cause it always does happen.”