Jade Jackson may be the next big country-rock star. But first, she has some tables to wait
She pedals her vintage pink beach cruiser up to the entryway of the Range restaurant, drops the kickstand and, without pausing to chain and lock it to anything, opens a wrought-iron gate and directs a visitor through a foliage-covered archway onto the cozy patio of her family’s dining establishment.
Jade Jackson is wearing the restaurant’s standard issue brown T-shirt over blue denim jeans and oxblood Western boots. It’s a couple of hours before she’ll tie on an apron and get to work seating guests, informing them about the tomato bisque soup, arugula-grapefruit salad and sand dabs that are the day’s specials, then taking their orders.
Soon, her brother and head chef, Cheynn (pronounced Shane), arrives to take the helm in the kitchen of the eatery their mother and father, Jeff and Lindsay Jackson, opened 14 years ago in this rural Central California farming and artist community of 1,259 that occupies about half a square mile along El Camino Real roughly 30 miles east of San Luis Obispo.
This night, however, Jackson’s parents are taking a rare night off to spend the evening at home with the youngest of their three children, Audrey, 23. She’s a visual artist whose work is on exhibit across the street in the bar the Jacksons recently opened, Rosalina, named for Jade’s paternal grandmother.
If it sounds a lot like a family affair, it is — one that extends to other facets of Jade’s life.
At this moment, Jade, 27, is enjoying a moment of calm before the Range opens for business at 5, taking time to talk about her other line of work: that of rising singer, songwriter and bandleader.
On Friday, Jackson will release her sophomore album, “Wilderness,” on the L.A.-based punk-alternative-Americana label Anti-, which also has put out records by Merle Haggard, her lifelong hero Tom Waits, Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy and Neko Case.
“Wilderness” is produced, as was her 2017 debut “Gilded,” by Mike Ness, frontman for long-running Southern California punk band Social Distortion. His influence can be heard in the new album’s searing electric guitar sounds and propulsive rhythm tracks, complementing the intensity of Jackson’s cut-to-the-bone singing and songwriting, which have quickly caught the ear of some of the music industry’s roots-minded tastemakers.
“There’s a real freshness to her sound, and she has a youthful exuberance that we like,” said Jeremy Tepper, program director for SiriusXM satellite radio’s Outlaw Country channel, which has been playing the album’s lead single, “Bottle It Up,” since March and recently added the second single, “Don’t Say You Love Me,” to the station’s rotation.
“It’s great to have the legends,” said Tepper, “but young artists like Jade, Tyler Childers, Colter Wall and Ian Noe allow the music to evolve.”
Last year, Jackson landed a slot at Stagecoach, the world’s biggest country music festival, put on in Indio by promoter Goldenvoice at the same site where Coachella unfolds each year.
“I hear the California desert, mystery and bohemian spirit, not only when I listen to her, but when I see her perform live,” said Stacy Vee, Goldenvoice’s director of festival talent, who is responsible for booking Stagecoach. “She’s got grit, but oh so much glamour in her approach. Her voice is silky but still bites … hard.”
Jackson’s voice bites even harder on “Wilderness” than on “Gilded,” as Jackson has grown more confident about revealing thoughts and feelings more directly.
In “Bottle It Up,” she employs a smart double entendre that makes it an instant honky-tonk classic in the way it crystallizes the need to stuff painful feelings down deep or soften the sting with alcohol.
“Bottle it up the way we feel right now/ Whenever I get lonely gonna drink a little down,” she sings against a driving country rock backbeat that developed while she was out on her daily running routine.
“City Lights,” another propulsive number, vividly expresses emotions and fears stemming from a horrific accident she suffered in 2012 when she fell from a rope swing and broke her back.
That life-changing event, which took place after she’d just started studying music at CalArts in Valencia — her idea of a fallback plan in case her passion for writing and singing her own songs didn’t translate into a professional career — led to darker places that also surface in some of the new songs.
For a time Jackson felt she was becoming too reliant on prescription painkillers, so she quit cold turkey. Then she developed an eating disorder and depression from the stress of the physical therapy along with the emotional toll the healing process took.
“It was about 18 months of recovery physically,” she said, “but mentally I feel like I didn’t fully recover until much, much later — until I was able to get into therapy and figure out my whole eating disorder thing and deal with that.”
She’s now sober and in a healthier frame of mind and body, but given what she’s experienced in her 27 years, it’s not a big surprise that Jackson doesn’t have much in common with much of the pop-leaning material favored by mainstream country radio these days.
Her lyrics and her singing often display strength and purity of expression, but in the song “Dust,” for instance, she also allows some cracks around the edges of her voice that reveal vulnerability in a way reminiscent of Lucinda Williams. There’s often a sense of wide-open spaces and possibilities, literally and psychologically, in her songs.
She shows no interest in being coddled in love — “I’ve been here before,” she sings in “Tonight,” “And boys like you make me wanna spend my nights alone” — yet she stops short of the don’t-get-mad-get-even school of romantic retribution that’s been the calling card for Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and several others. (She does have a boyfriend, but they have an understanding that music is her top priority now.)
Part of what sets her apart is geography — she’s living and writing a couple of thousand miles from the epicenter of commercial country music — and partly it’s her upbringing.
She and her siblings grew up without radio or television, listening instead to the collection of records their parents had on hand, much of it by classic country artists such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Jimmie Rodgers, Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson as well as the California contingent spearheaded by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Those records spin nightly for diners at the Range, via an iPod plugged in to the restaurant’s sound system
“I knew we were going to work really well together because her stuff has always blended in with the old country,” said Ness, whose 1999 solo album, “Under the Influences,” showcased his affinity for vintage country, rockabilly and bluegrass.
“But I also have a suspicion that she was a blues singer in an earlier life, because she sings a lot with a blue note,” he said.
Ness’ role in Jackson’s music, and her life, is another extension of her family-centric world: His wife, Christine, went to high school with Jackson’s mother.
So when Jade’s “overprotective” — her word — parents finally allowed her as a teenager to go to her first concert without parental chaperones, she chose a Social Distortion concert in nearby San Luis Obispo.
It was a transformative experience for the girl who’d been writing songs in her room on an acoustic guitar to relieve the boredom that can come with life in a small town (Santa Margarita’s population was 1,259 as of the 2010 census).
‘I was pretty socially awkward, so I just kind of like found my place and stood there the whole time and watched him,” she recalled. “I had never felt like I really had a voice, and so I was like, maybe that’s how I can find confidence.”
As Jackson began performing more frequently, Christine Ness urged her husband to look in on her old friend’s daughter. When he did, he was interested enough to step in and mentor her, even before he became her producer.
“He’s really taken it upon himself to just help guide me through all this, and I feel super grateful,” Jackson said as other restaurant workers began setting out salt and pepper shakers and place settings on tables.
The Jackson-Ness connection has expanded further recently, after guitarist Andrew Rebel left the band last year.
“He had a family, he had prior commitments and he had to fulfill those, and the road is not maybe the best place to support a family, especially in the beginning,” she said.
That spot has been assumed by Ness’ eldest son, musician Julian Ness, whom Jackson has known since they were children.
“He just really wants to be there,” Jackson said, “and he’s really committed. Not that Andrew wasn’t, but now we are kind of settled with Julian, and it’s like we’re a band again.
Jackson and Julian Ness are undertaking a short string of dates as a duo in July, opening for Foo Fighters lead guitarist Chris Shiflett. They’ll make Southern California stops July 10 in Costa Mesa; July 12 at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown, where she shot the video for “Bottle It Up” during a gig there earlier this year; July 13 in Bakersfield; and July 14 at the Moroccan Lounge in L.A.
“It’s a stripped-down set, which is something we haven’t done and which means we have to work,” she said, having just wrapped a series of press interviews in Europe before returning to the states for more shows and then home to waitress for a few days before the album’s release Friday.
The latest round of shows was one of the most grueling, she said, because there was barely a letup from one event to the next. But for a few days, she’s home and back to waitressing, which aids her family’s restaurant business and helps her pay the bills while she strives to turn her music into a full-time gig. She said she considers herself fortunate to have the flexibility that working in a family enterprise — and living at home when she’s not touring or recording — affords her to manage her music commitments.
“Everything challenging,” she said just before getting up to tie an apron around her waist and eyeball the specials list one more time before approaching the first table of the night, “is going to make you better in the end.”
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