Wow! Luke Jackson stepped on stage at Bramley’s Cocktail Bar in Canterbury and roared his way through a new blues-based song, ‘Fun Of It’ – it took my breath away even at this distance. Solo Duo Trio is Luke’s first live album featuring Andy Sharps as half the duo on bass guitar and drummer Connor Downs completing the trio as Luke led his band through a set divided into the titular three segments.
For his second song he goes back to the title track of his first album, More Than Boys. It was recorded when he was just eighteen but even then he was making his mark. Six years on from that release his voice has matured and I imagine he’s learned some new guitar techniques but it is his command of the stage, his material and his audience that is astonishing even though his stage announcements still sound modest. The third track is another new song and one of Luke’s absolute best; ‘Flowers’ is deceptively simple but quite heart-rending, sung with passion over a minimal guitar part.
Luke closes his solo segment with ‘Last Train’ segueing into a verse of ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and welcomes Andy to the stage for ‘Father’s Footsteps’ from his second album. I think that it’s only when listening to Luke’s own selection from his catalogue that you realize what a marvelous bunch of songs he has produced in a few short years. The duo segment closes with a brilliant version of ‘Finding Home’ proving how versatile two instruments and two voices can be.
Connor comes to the stage for the trio section, beginning with ‘Is It Me?’ and one of my favourites from the entire album, ‘Aunt Sally’ – what a song that is. Luke tries to take it down a bit with ‘Made Of Stone’ and the band gets behind him, driving but not racing. ‘Answers Have Gone’, from Fumes And Faith, is another rocking blues and as he starts to sing ‘Sister’ he sounds like an old bluesman. Finally comes the last song from his most recent studio album and ‘The Road’ brings us as up to date as we can get.
If you thought that you knew Luke Jackson, as I thought I did, listen to Solo Duo Trio and prepare to revise your opinions. This is stunning.
I never fail to be impressed by Luke Jackson. He is still only in his early twenties, has a voice that many more experienced singers would kill for and writes songs of such wisdom and perception. Tall Tales And Rumours is his fourth studio album and he’s only just started.
The album opens with the extraordinary ‘The Man That Never Was’ with just Luke’s soulful gospel-tinged voice. The song was inspired by Glen Campbell’s struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease; he was beginning to forget everything except his music. “No man is empty, not all is lost / You may find him in a melody” is the final couplet and you almost want to stop there and think about it. Luke doesn’t want that, however, and he segues straight into ‘Treat Me Mean, Keep Me Keen’, a complete contrast as he tells of a culture clash with his American girlfriend that is finally resolved through music.
About now you start wondering how much of this is real and how much is imagination. ‘Finding Home’ is clearly about life on the road so perhaps the rocker ‘Anything But Fate’ is its imaginative counterpoint. So where did ‘Leather & Chrome’ come from? It’s about a man fulfilling his father’s dream by building a motorbike and riding it to California to rest his head on Venice Beach. I’m pretty sure Luke hasn’t done that. ‘Aunt Sally’ lies somewhere between reality and imagination – she is a real character but Luke speculates on her fate and attacks the system that “sold her down a river on a raft of broken dreams”.
Luke continues to employ Andy Sharps on bass and Connor Downs’ on percussion and the three of them make a mighty sound when they need to. In contrast, Luke can sound fragile and vulnerable as he does on the tragic ‘That’s All Folks’. Amy Wadge appears as guest vocalist on ‘Finding Home’ but she is the only addition to the gang of three that made This Family Tree.
The final track is the part blues, part rock ‘On The Road’ as Luke seems to accept that this will be his life for the foreseeable future and he can live with that. So can we.
Some young artists arrive on the scene seemingly from nowhere and disappear just as quickly. Others stay and grow and fine tune their craft. Kent’s Luke Jackson is definitely a keeper. Few would argue that he is one of the most exciting singer songwriters and live performers out there – totally unafraid to stray across genres, always delivering top notch original material and still only 22.
He first started making waves when barely a teenager, hitting the acoustic ground running. Belying his years with his a powerful, distinctive voice and songwriting prowess way beyond his years his debut album More Than Boys was judged outstanding by many critics and triggered a double nomination at the 2013 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (Young Folk Award and Horizon Award for Best Emerging Act).
Just 18 months later he fulfilled all the promise heaped upon him with his second more blues-based album Fumes And Faith, with the accolades coming thick and fast and last year he introduced his trio of Andy Sharps (bass) and Connor Downs (percussion) in the EP This Family Tree (the first release on his own label, First Take Records) – the only criticism coming from those looking for another full length album.
Now he is back with a real ‘coming of age’ album – his fourth release Tall Tales & Rumours – 12 diverse self-penned tracks moving across myriad styles from folk to blues and rock and feeling like “my most complete album yet”.
That natural confidence is immediately evident in the atmospheric scene setter as Jackson delivers an acapella ‘The Man That Never Wants’ – a haunting song he wrote after watching a documentary about country singer Glen Campbell and his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. “He was starting to forget most things but somehow remembered his songs and how to play the guitar – I found that completely fascinating” says Luke.
The song runs straight into the second completely juxtaposed track – the driving rhythms of the tongue in cheek ‘Treat Me Mean, Keep Me Keen’ – a lyric from which gives the album its title.
Luke’s trio have really hit their stride on this album, working tightly together as perhaps only old college band friends can and come into their own on the restless ‘Finding Home’. Written while touring with Grammy winner Amy Wadge at the start of the year it tells of a life in perpetual motion, never quite belonging, and features Ed Sheeran collaborator Wadge on harmony vocals.
First unveiled in Belgium ‘Better Man’ is a beautifully contemplative and stripped back love song while ‘Kansas’, a love song of a different kind, was apparently written in just 20 minutes is a US hotel room. Says Luke:
“I started 2016 in America at Folk Alliance – I was having a wonderful time but when I wrote the song looking at the night time city skyline, I had never felt so far away from home”.
The sentiment of the homesick blues song percolates through a softer, measured vocal and plaintive guitar chords.
Luke steps on the gas for the rockier ‘Anything But Fate ‘while one of his long time live show highlight ‘Lucy And Her Camera’ has finally been recorded here – a snapshot song where the boy succeeds in getting the girl!
‘Lucy And Her Camera’:
His increasingly sophisticated, astutely observed narrative songs venture into “father and son” territory once more (‘Father And Son’ was an acclaimed song on his Fumes And Faith album). The poignant and pensive Leather and Chrome tells of a parent’s unfulfilled dream. After vowing to ‘build this bike and ride to California’ the father comes to realise he will never see New York City or Tennessee or “lay my head on Venice Beach” but hopes his son will fulfil the trip in his stead.
It’s a memorable stand out song but perhaps more moving still is his bold, bleak ‘That’s All Folks’ – the saddest of goodbye notes. Chilling and raw and recorded in one take it’s a subject that not all musicians would want to tackle.
Elsewhere he unveils songs of misfits – the menacing and percussive ‘I Remember’ is a dramatic song about a stalker with a big soundscape while ‘Aunt Sally’ is based on a character from his locality.
“Last year my secondary school closed and there were rumours that squatters had taken residence. I had the odd idea that maybe Aunt Sally was squatting in one of my old English rooms, maybe even reading one of my essays! But beyond that there’s a more serious message about people who are struggling and unable to find real help.”
The album ends on a more uplifting note with the hooky and upbeat ‘On the Road’ – a number gig goers will recognise as a favourite set closer which Luke says is “the story of the last year really.”
“My mind, body and soul is on the road” says the song. As the assured Jackson gets ever more in demand that will surely be the case for many years to come.
Luke Jackson opened his account with two superb solo albums and he could be forgiven for sitting back and giving us more of the same. He’s still only twenty, after all, and he has time on his side.
And that is exactly what he hasn’t done. This Family Tree continues the development that led to Fumes And Faith with support from Andy Sharps on bass and Connor Downs on drums. It’s more rock’n’roll than folk but the songs retain the insight that Luke has always shown. These are stories of people, all but one told in the third person, as Luke observes their lives.
The opener, ‘Ain’t No Trouble’, shows a small town Saturday night with all its unpleasantness. Luke stands outside at all – “There ain’t no trouble that’s mine”. One of the song’s characters, Joey by name, appears again in ‘These Winter Winds’ on the day “he watched his daughter go”. Luke fills the song with misdirection – is this a wedding day or a funeral? Even at the end we’re not sure. The first person song is ‘Is It Me? And here Luke is looking back all the way to when he was sixteen and asks the un-named girl to “show me that I’m not a has been”. Are you just trying to make us feel old?
The only problem here is that This Family Tree is a mini-album, just seven tracks, and I think I would have preferred to wait a little longer for a full length product. It is also the debut of a new label and there may be economic considerations or it may be that the full album is no longer de rigeur when a single track can be downloaded and be enough to make someone’s name. Whatever, this is a brilliant piece of work.