Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 5/26/09

Yet another reminder of how the true test of a performer is how they hold up under less than ideal circumstances. In this case Jenifer Jackson was battling some nasty but hopefully short-acting bug, sweating and rallying and ultimately coming out victorious – if she hadn’t told the crowd, hardly anyone would have noticed. Jackson has gotten a lot of ink here and will continue to, because she’s criminally underrated: plainly and simply, most of the songwriters on her level are either dead (Lennon, Jobim, Arthur Lee) or in the accepted canon (Lou Reed, Loretta Lynn, Gamble & Huff). Those references are deliberate because Jackson either draws on or has a song or three resembling all those greats. This show was mostly a mix of newer material from her next cd, which is inching tantalizingly toward completion. Like her most recent song titles – Time, Words, Maybe – she’s mining a strikingly terse, richly lyrical, melodically simple yet minutely jewelled vein. And though visibly struggling, she still toyed with her vocal melodies with an otherwise effortless expertise, harmonizing off her usual vocal line or, at the end of the show, finally breaking into a soaring wail.

Backing her this time out were longtime bandmates Oren Bloedow (of the magnificent Elysian Fields) on guitar and the equally haunting, tasteful Matt Kanelos (who has a brilliantly subtle new album of his own out) on piano as well as her longtime drummer Greg Wieczorek AKA G Wiz who joined her on the last few songs of the set. The newest material continued to be the most impressive: the sadly resolute 6/8 country ballad The Beauty in the Emptying; a jazzier take on early 70’s Carole King, with a cautionary note to seize the day; a hypnotic, Velvets-ish version of the completely un-bluesy Let the Good Times Roll (another carpe diem theme); an absolutely riveting, minimalistically ominous version of the forthcoming Groundward and the best song of the set, Maybe, Bloedow adding a soulful energy to the lyric’s stoic resignation via a masterful series of slides and bends. If the new album is anything like what she played at this show, it’s a serious contender for best of the year in whatever year it comes out. Watch this space for upcoming New York dates.

May 29, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Images from Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 3/24/09

A photoblogger’s dream. In lieu of actual photos, some indelible moments:


Elysian Fields guitarist Oren Bloedow, a longtime Jackson bandmate, grinning ear to ear as he launches into a warm succession of chords straight out of Nashville, 1966. Not what you’d expect from the leader of a brooding, noir downtown art-rock band…


– Jackson‘s songs tend to be soft, but she punishes her guitar strings. There’s a moment during a newer one, Let the Good Times Roll (nothing like B.B. King – or the Cars) where she holds down the rhythm during an instrumental break, bending over, wailing on the strings, hair all up in her face like Courtney Love. Who is sort of the opposite of Jenifer Jackson.


– Pianist Mattt Kanelos, completely unrehearsed, all deadpan as he does the smart thing – playing one beat behind the band – as they launch into the old doo-wop hit La La Means I Love You.


– Jackson singing those la-las with real feeling. After all she’s been through – if her lyrics are any indication – she’s still a believer. Back for another ride through hell.


– “Plain, fancy, plain,” Bloedow reminding the troops about how to make the music match the vocals on the song’s outro as they launch into an audience request, the Beatlesque When You Looked at Me, from Jackson’s first full-length album, from ten years ago. Has it really been that long?


– Jackson looks down as she launches into the chorus of the restless yet ambient Groundward, telegraphing where the song is going. Most of the crowd don’t know the song yet – lots of folks who weren’t there at her March 10 show. They will sooner than later. They’re rapt. They miss the singer who used to play just about every week around here. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates. 

April 1, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 7/20/08

What a treat to see such a major artist, a Lennon/McCartney/Elvis Costello-class songwriter, in such an intimate, sonically beautiful setting. This was the fun set. Jenifer Jackson’s an urban person at heart, and tonight she might as well have been wearing one of those “I heart New York” shirts. Although Jackson relocated to Austin last year, she and her cohorts onstage – Elysian Fields guitarist Oren Bloedow and her longtime drummer Greg Wiz – were just about jumping out of their shoes, unabashedly delighted to be playing with each other again after a long hiatus. Which was particularly striking, because her stock in trade is lush, jazz and tropicalia-inflected songs with a pensive, moody edge. But tonight was just as much a clinic in good times as good songwriting, featuring mostly new material.

The drummer was playing all the new stuff cold, but nobody would have known it if Jackson hadn’t spilled the beans: his feel for her songs is absolutely intuitive. Bloedow played invigoratingly virtuosic, fast bluegrass-inflected lines all night, a striking change from the jazzy noir feel of his own band. “It’s hard to play chicken-scratch sitting down,” Jackson marveled, but it seemed as if Bloedow would have gladly done it behind his back, and well, if anybody had asked him to. The new stuff is sensationally tuneful and emotionally impactful: since her first full-length album, 1999’s Slowly Bright, Jackson hasn’t lost a step. Vocally, her range has expanded, in both senses of the word: she has the voice of a survivor, indomitable, confident, despite a few dents probably too deep to ever be completely smoothed out. There’s solace in that voice, but there’s also a bon vivant who refuses to miss out on anything good. The night’s best song, a new number, reflected exactly that. Building on a dark, steady, deliberate descending progression to a passionate crescendo, Jackson sang of letting it all go, defiantly refusing to accede to despair.

Another number had something of a sassy 60s Nancy Sinatra jazz-pop feel. The effortlessly sultry, 6/8 Whispering Words, a sprightly song perhaps titled Spring (as in “maybe love will come again in Spring”), and a particularly haunting breakup song, The Beauty in the Emptying – all new – kept the audience rapt. Nobody said a word, even when the guitars were constantly being retuned (the hundred-degree, humid night outside had a lot to do with that). Which pretty much sums up the show. You would be crazy to miss her the next time she plays here.

July 21, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment