Luke Jackson – Solo | Duo | Trio
First Take Records – Out Now
Solo | Duo | Trio is a live album in three sets, all recorded on one October night in the intimate surroundings of Bramley’s Cocktail Bar near Luke Jackson’s hometown of Canterbury. The album deftly charts the way he’s expanded his sound without losing anything of the rawness of his solo shows. I’ve only ever seen him in the one man and a guitar setting, but each time I’ve been blown away by the intensity and power of his performance, very much a contrast to the fairly soft and quietly spoken young man in-between songs.
The setlist here is finely tuned, embracing songs from all of his studio albums, reworking some of them, but also including three that only exist in the recorded form here. It’s one such that, following tumultuous applause, launches proceeding. Fun Of It is a potent bluesy number about those who break hearts simply because they can. The second new number in the first set is Flowers, a simple, poignant fingerpicked song about lives lived well but without ever igniting, while, sandwiched in-between is the title track of his debut album, More Than Boys, a reflective rite of passage number inspired by seeing a bunch of lads going fishing.
A snapshot of a town’s drunken and a sleazy nightlife, the bluesy Ain’t No Trouble comes from the This Family Tree mini-album, Jackson again drawing vocal comparisons with Robert Plant. The solo sets return with the more subdued Last Train, the story of a soldier travelling home to break the bad news to a comrade’s family and return his possessions, expanded in the live setting to segue into a closing snatch from Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind.
Joined by Andy Sharps on bass, the duo section kicks off with the lyrically sour Father’s Footsteps, one of three numbers taken from his second album, Fumes and Faith, with Sharps providing the persistent percussive spine. Kansas, one of the life on road songs from Tall Tales and Rumours, retains the spare, woody feel with Jackson’s wordless croon/howl more prominent live than on the studio version. It’s back to the debut, then, for its opening number, Run & Hide, Sharps providing harmonies although the understated bass means it sounds pretty much like the original. The middle set ends with a two-minute introduction to Finding Home that bigs up his frequent double-header touring partner Amy Wadge who appeared on the Tall Tales studio version. Here, as Jackson playfully observes, Sharps serves as a more than capable substitute for one of Luke’s best songs, yearningly sung about balancing the road and finding “a life worth dying for.”
Drummer Connor Downs takes up his place behind the kit for the trio set, opening with the funky rhythms and soulfulness of Is It Me? from Family Tree, Jackson exploring his falsetto range, the musical mood then switching to a driving blues boogie groove for Aunt Sally, his caustic song about the mentally ill being consigned to care in the community.
The pace is pulled back down for the third of the new numbers, the soulful slow sway of Made Of Stone, a song about emotional vulnerability that is, in some ways, Jackson’s answer to I Don’t Want To Talk About It.
It’s back to Fumes and Faith for Answers Have Gone which, as he relates, was the first song they played together as a trio, the electric guitar, bass and drums arrangement giving it a brisker tempo with an almost rockabilly blues touch and Jackson reworking his vocal delivery to give it a more aggressive gospel edge with his almost spoken flurries.
Appropriately then that gospel feel is also in evidence on the penultimate number, Sister, another from the same album, a song about lost faith that opens unaccompanied before the bass and then sparse drums kick in and the performance turns up the heat.
It ends with a well-established live favourite, (On) The Road, the final track on Tall Tales, a loose-limbed soulful sway hymn from the heart of a gigging musician that draws on such influences as Sam Cooke and Van Morrison that climaxes in a sing and clap along finale with the crowd picking up the chorus for the final stretch.
The next best thing to actually having been there and a persuasive reminder that, whatever format he works in, Jackson is one of the most dynamic and exciting live performers of his generation.