A former two time Radio 2 Folk Award nominee, Luke Jackson is a bit of musically restless soul. The Canterbury-born singer-songwriter’s debut album for Martyn Joseph’s Pipe label was a generally folksy affair, but, a year later, the follow-up saw him venturing heavily into American blues territory with the often sonically raw Fumes and Faith. Having now set up his own label First Take Records, he returns, again within the space of twelve months, with This Family Tree a seven track mini-album that sees yet another shift. The folk and blues are still in evidence, but now he’s put aside the acoustic guitar in favour of an electric one and formed a trio with former college friends Andy Sharps on bass and Connor Downs on drums, adding shades of rockabilly (especially on Misspent History) and jazz to the mix while Is It Me? has a potent soul feel.
Another new element is that, unlike the previous albums, the songs here are connected, not just thematically, but as a narrative concept, examining the lives of a small town family and, specifically, the character of Joey who appears in three of the numbers.
The story opens with the bluesy Ain’t No Trouble, as the unnamed narrator provides a scene-setting late night portrait of a town he doesn’t feel part of, with its drunken men staggering back to their wives, girls carrying their shoes in the high street and boys popping pills in the bathroom, introducing Joey, a bloke who “sees himself as the town’s main threat”, a blusterer who may talk the talk but never dares walk it.
Accompanied by just sparse guitar, Caitlin introduces another character in the drama, a girl who drinks to kill time and to make her heart feel numb, longing for tomorrow but stuck in today, unable to escape her demons.
That dead end life is further etched on The Reckless Kind, a meld of rockabilly and gospel blues that turns the focus back to Joey (who ‘chats crap’) and his brother Jack (who ‘don’t speak’), products of a dysfunctional, broken family (“mother flew right off the rails, daddy packed up and left”), raised by themselves with a little guidance from their sister, but who have grown to become the ambition-free chancers of the title.
Joey reappears in the following track, These Winter Winds, a suitably subdued, reflective slow, blues tinted number with Jackson’s voice weighted with emotion as he sings how the town folk “flooded through the church gates” and “filled up every pew” on the day “he watched his daughter go”, though whether this is wedding or a funeral remains ambiguous.
Although Joey’s never mentioned by name again, he may well still be the narrator of the Memphis Souls stained Is It Me?, Jackson in falsetto mode, as he sings in the voice of someone from a broken home, seeking comfort from his long-suffering (“I know you want me gone”) wife now that “everything I ever loved has gone”, though the admission of domestic abuse, a failed and the final line “it better be me you’re thinking of” reinforce the air of incipient violence and tension established in the opening track.
It’s there too on the choppy Misspent History, another first person number about a frustrated, angry clock puncher wheeler dealer who ducks and dives and claims to be everyone’s mates, but never gets his round in and, given his past, can see no prospect of redemption.
The tale ends on the Hometown Stories, another low key, voice and guitar affair, that returns us to two connected, but distanced volatile characters (Joey and his wife, perhaps?) from whom love has escaped, who share the same space, but cannot communicate (rather than talk it out “she’ll drink her wine and he’ll go smoke outside”), each products of their family trees. And yet, for all the problems and struggles here and in what has gone before, Jackson ends the album, as “fingers entwine”, on a note of hope (or its it just resignation?) that ‘we’ll figure it out eventually”.
Short but perfectly formed, sharply and sympathetically observed and emotionally involving. Further evidence that Jackson is shaping up to become one of the enduring major figures in the world of contemporary folk.
Review by: Mike Davies
Luke is on tour now, visit his website for full details: http://lukepauljackson.com/