Not so very long ago the traditionalists were proclaiming a breakthrough with Chris Stapleton leading the way, brushing aside all of that ‘nasty’ bro-country nonsense. William Michael Morgan was top of the country charts and Midland were signed by Big Machine Records. ‘Real’ country was back.
It didn’t quite work out however. Not yet anyway. Sam Hunt is fast becoming Nashville’s equivalent of Adele, dominating every chart that has the name ‘Country’ and Morgan’s follow-up single ‘Missing’ seems to have lived up to its title.
A debut album from a new artist who is as traditional as it gets seems again to be pushing against the tide.
Tony Jackson is a throwback to those days when country music was more easily defined. Days when the country charts were dominated by George Jones, Glen Campbell, Conway Twitty and Kenny Rogers. Days when you put your needle onto your vinyl and you anticipated that the sounds that you heard defended the integrity of country music.
Jackson’s musical route should not have led him along the highway to Nashville. The son of a naval vet who was reared on his Dad’s 80s R&B tunes by Earth Wind and Fire, Ashford and Simpson, Motown or his Mom’s gospel classics, a chance meeting with Randy Travis in Spain tuned his country music sat nav. Now that’s what you call destiny.
He followed his Dad into military service with the US Marines and excelled in finance as a bank executive. These were mere stepping stones to where he is today. He sang lead vocals for a non-country band ‘Half Brother Sid’ but this was a precursor to forming his own band ‘Jackson Ward’. His transformation to a bona fide country singer occurred when he recorded a tribute to George Jones after the legendary singer died in April 2013.
The tribute song ‘The Grand Tour’ was uploaded to Facebook and amassed 10 million views and 200,000 shares in three weeks. It led to a meeting with Donna Meade, widow of the late country star Jimmy Dean, her invitation to appear at the Old Dominion Barn Dance and a connection in Nashville with music veteran Jim Della Croce. This opened doors and a chance to record his own song ‘Drink By Drink’ that featured on the Country Breakout Chart.
A recording deal with DDS Entertainment followed and we now have the release of his 12 track debut album. It is an album that makes no compromises to the traditions of country music but features songs from both Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and Country Music Hall Of Fame Members.
Comparisons will obviously be made with Darius Rucker and Charley Pride but it’s probably best to rely on the wisdom of Willie Nelson who recently told Jackson that ‘we need more brothers in country music’. The album was recorded in the hallowed RCA Record Studio’s in Nashville and has contributions from Steve Cropper of Booker T fame and Vince Gill.
The songs range from the well known (Conway Twitty’s ‘It’s Only Make Believe’) to the lesser known (Lovin’ Spoonfulls’ ‘Nashville Cats’) but Jackson also excels as a songwriter in his own right.
‘Drink By Drink’ has a ‘Wagon Wheel’ feel and ‘Old Porch Swing’ shows maturity and awareness of the genre that traditionalists will lap up. The highlight for me, however, has to be ‘Do I Ever Cross Your Mind’. It’s a song that was written by Billy Burdette and Michael Smotherman rather than the Dolly Parton B-side. It’s a stunning country ballad that would have been top of our charts in the seventies when Kenny Rogers and Glen Campbell were dominant.
Listening to this album feels like the start of a journey. I’m not sure that Tony Jackson will attract too much interest from country radio but this probably won’t matter too much. Cream tends to rise to the top and the grapevine has many branches.
Frankly you won’t hear many better traditional country albums all year.