Fort Worth Weekly - December 22, 2014
Various artists - Safely Down: The Songs of Jason Jackson
Reviewed by Joey Keeton
When Jason Jackson took his life in 2011 at the age of 35, he left behind a young daughter and dozens of songs. To help that girl, Isabella, financially and to preserve the legacy of the singer-songwriter who’d played in multiple Texas bands, some of his friends and ex-bandmates committed his material to wax. Recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis with Grammy-winning producer John Hampton, Safely Down: The Songs of Jason Jackson is a fantastic tribute.
The album serves as a kind of prism through which Jackson’s life passes, coming out the other side as chords and lyrics that add up to an honest and vulnerable yet troubled creative force. The pop of the matthew show’s upbeat, swinging version of Magic Mary disguises Bukowski-esque apathy: “This Southern Comfort is gonna get the best of me,” frontman Matthew Broyles sings in his masculine voice. The familiar rock of Talley Summerlin’s Circus Freak also has a dark heart. As he brightly sings the chorus (“because I’m the Elephant Man”), he’s joined by a mournful violin that creeps in from out of nowhere. It’s like Uncle Charles said: “You have my soul, and I have your money.”
The styles on display are as various as the contributors’ tastes. Aimie Lovett offers a little doo-wop (Simple Little Love Song), Shotgun Friday performs a hoedown (Riverside), and Ed Rogers serves up Wurlitzer-powered, sentimental playfulness (Excuse Me).
The sad country on the album is actually sad (as opposed to merely maudlin). On Doug Kwartier’s Let Me See You in the Morning, soft acoustic strumming is backed by a female choir: “When the light is shining through your window / I’ll pack my things up and leave you here / But for now, let’s put that thought to bed / Let me see you in the morning.”
But Safely Down has its share of lightheartedness. On Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell and Stefan Prigmore’s rowdy rendition of Pretty Grrlz, Jackson writes: “And if I had a dollar / For every pretty girl I’ve met / I’d load up every jukebox / With Pop-A-Top and Tennessee Jed.” It certainly helps that Russell and Prigmore infuse the material with a lot of levity and chutzpah.
(The best lyrics are probably on The Lesbian Song: “I got a mirrored headboard / Martini-sunrise breath / I don’t know why I want to live alone / I bore myself to death.”)
That Safely Down exists makes it more than an album. It’s a form of public service for which we should all be grateful. –– Joey Keeton