BILL JACKSON – 1965 (Wayside Records)

1965Banjo, slide guitar, songs that conjure up wide horizons or tough frontier towns: 1965 is pure Americana. Except that Bill Jackson is Australian and although some of his songs are flights of fancy about the old west others stay closer to home. It’s a nice mixture. The songs are all original, frequently co-writes with Bill’s brother, Ross, and producer Kerryn Tolhurst and Bill describes 1965 as the year of his musical awakening. I can relate to that.

The opening track, ‘Precious Cargo’, is also the single and its opening lines set the scene: “I had a dream last night it was the strangest thing/Chapter by chapter it drew me in/New York City 1965/With beatniks and hipsters in a West Side dive”. I’m guessing that Bill would have loved to be there but setting the story as a dream allows him some leeway. The song rides on banjo, courtesy of Ruth Hazleton, with shuffling percussion and name-checks Kerouac and Rambling Jack Eliott with the title referring to the music and, I suppose, the people in his dream.

Rolling guitar opens ‘My Ramblin’ Is Through’, the story of a guy with the wanderlust who really wants to settle down with his woman. Or does he? The song could equally be set in the Midwest or the outback. The location of ‘Stone Cold Side Of The Bed’ is equally debatable although the presence of harmonica and steel guitar suggests the USA and the tag line of each verse also suggests a prison cell.

‘How I Feel’ is definitely an Australian song, mixing up elements of the country’s history from the arrival of the British to the Burma railway via the Gallipoli expedition. I like to think that the I in the title is Australia herself and those who don’t know how she feels are the rest of us the world over. Bill gets romantic with a lot of pedal steel on ‘A Diamond Always Shines’ and hard again on ‘Boots Of American Snakeskin’ – shots and screams in the night.

‘Hong Kong’ rapidly became my favourite song on the album. “The first time I heard the Stones/Was in a Hong Kong bar drinking gin” – what an opening couplet! The song is about a sailor reminiscing and looking back “more than fifty years”. There’s big electric guitar on this one. ‘Hell Or High Water’ is a song of unshakeable friendship and seems to pair naturally with the road song that is ‘Lonesome Rider’ while ‘Who Wins Wars’ would seem to be obvious but requires some unpacking. There are a lot of ideas packed in here.

My download includes an out-take, ‘She Does It All With Her Eyes’. It isn’t listed on the back cover so it may be a hidden track (they are creeping back into fashion again) but it is listed on Bandcamp. It’s actually a rather fine song with a pared back country feel and doesn’t deserve to be an afterthought.

Bill is bit elusive on-line – he seems to have no main web-page – but you can find him on Facebook and 1965 and his other albums are available via Bandcamp. Have a listen: buying it won’t break the bank.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Precious Cargo’ – live (a bit weird at the start):