Young songwriters often face a dilemma – the age-old axiom of “write what you know” versus a hesitancy to divulge too much of their still-forming personalities. After all, many folks become songwriters precisely because they’ve found it so hard to express themselves in more immediate forms of communication. Songs offer some level of anonymity, but that distance disappears when the subject matter gets too close to home. Jade Jackson’s first album, Gilded, was full of tunes about youthful pursuits – hitting the road, flash-and-burn relationships, taking chances. Good songs about familiar topics, universal to anyone who’s survived their early 20s. On her second album, Wilderness (ANTI-), the California singer-songwriter has delved more into her own life, complete with more than your average amount of trauma.
Before the heartache kicks in, Wilderness starts off with a driving country-rocker. “Bottle It Up” is a sort of epilogue, just at the beginning of the story. The singer finds herself enjoying the moment and saving it for bluer days: “Whenever I get lonely gonna drink a little down.” There’s a shout of independence here, too: “I don’t need a man’s hands to open the jar.” She’s figured out that she can – finally – make her own happiness.
“City Lights” brings out Jackson’s punk-ish side (appropriately enough, on an album produced by Mike Ness), feeling very bass-driven and Runaways-esque, with tough lyrics to match: “”Control can be an illusion/Ropes me to my edge.” “Don’t Say That You Love Me”, penned by Ness (the only song on the album not written or co-written by Jackson), blends both favored styles of the Social Distortion frontman – hard-edged pop-punk and old-school country, complete with pedal steel from Matt Pynn.
While Ness’ helping hand is evident, this really is Jackson’s breakout record as a songwriter. “Multiple Choice” is reflective of all the tough calls she’s had to make to get this point – dealing with a severe back injury, kicking a dependence on pain pills and wrestling with depression – and the stress that comes with it: “Moonlight, makin’ its way in/It’s not what’s bright that’s keepin’ me awake.” “Loneliness” is a soaring ballad that suits Jackson’s voice – somewhere between a rough edge and a melancholy croon – and it asks, “How come loneliness is something we don’t talk about” (she’s right – we have a million songs about it, but rarely a conversation). The title track has the singer begging a friend to ask for help – “I hope you find your way out of this mess/And you surrender your pride/Have no fear in your wilderness” – and maybe reminding herself that she can ask for help, too. And Ness returns on guitar for “Secret”, which has Jackson pushing herself to leave her situation behind: “I don’t want my bones to be buried in this town.” She’s still got some healing to do, and she’s hitting the road in search of that bottle-it-up feeling.
Wilderness was produced by Mike Ness, engineered by Jeff Halbert, mixed by Vance Powell and mastered by Pete Lyman. In addition to Jackson and Ness, songwriters include Tyler Miller and Jake Vukovich. Jackson’s band on the album is Miller (drums and percussion), Vukovich (bass), and Andrew Rebel (backing vocals, electric and acoustic guitar, and piano), with Julian Ness (Mike’s son) joining Jackson on the road playing guitar. Guest musicians include David Bragger (fiddle), Audrey Jackson (backing vocals), and David Kalish (B3 organ).