Craig Jackson was born in Southern California, where he grew up surrounded by the rootsy, sun-baked sounds of the Grateful Dead, Tom Petty and Jackson Browne. Now based in Nashville, Jackson draws on those influences with Sweeter Songs, a mix of countryfied rock & roll, folk-pop and Americana.
Produced by Ken Coomer, Sweeter Songs finds Jackson teaming up with an all-star group of roots musicians, including bassist David La Bruyere (John Mayer, Shawn Mullins), Juno award-winning blues guitarist Colin Linden (Lindi Ortega), backing vocalist Scotty Huff (Keith Urban, The Mavericks), and organist John Lancaster. Adam Ollendorff (Will Hoge, Kacey Musgraves), who also appeared on Jackson’s 2009 release Damn The Roses, contributes electric guitar, 12-string steel and lap steel and two co-writes, while Aaron Oliver adds upright bass to “Much Too Long,” a twangy mid-tempo number co-written by Nashville’s Don Gallardo.
With Jackson’s dusty vocals at the forefront, Sweeter Songs lives up to its title. “A Sweeter Song” kicks things off with jangling guitars with a breezy, longing chorus, while “A Little Love,” which Jackson co-wrote with Curb Records artist Ruth Collins, channels the brassy strut of the Rolling Stones. “Things Get Lost,” the only ballad here, slows down the tempo and cranks up the introspection.
Doubling as the EP’s producer and drummer, Coomer decorates the songs with percussive touches. There are rattling tambourines and subtle shakers, crashing cymbals and tight snare hits, thudding kickdrum and deep-seated grooves. For Jackson, working with someone like Coomer -- whose resume includes collaborations with Will Hoge, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris, as well as a six-year run as a member of Wilco -- helped bring a new perspective to the arrangement process.
“Ken really captured the rootsy kind of rock vibe I was feeling with these songs,” Jackson says. “Adding his incredible drum and percussion talent gives them a fresh sound I wasn’t expecting, but am totally in love with. Working with him stretched me in ways I would never have thought to explore.”
This isn’t Craig Jackson’s first rodeo. His earlier releases -- Last House on the Left, Midwest, Spanish Rain, and Damn the Roses -- have enjoyed airplay on radio stations across the country, including Nashville’s Lightning 100 and L.A.’s KLOS 95.5.
Even so, Sweeter Songs is something different. It’s a combination of country-rock and pop, a mix of old-school songwriting and modern recording techniques, a collaboration between Jackson and some of Nashville’s strongest players. And, as the title suggests, it’s the sweetest batch of songs he’s ever written.
- by Andrew Leahey