Experimentation is the lifeblood of any artist, and when ideas suddenly coalesce into something that until that moment seemed beyond reach, it casts an entirely new light on their identity.
Although over the course of her 15-year recording career Lynn Jackson has primarily been known as an acoustic troubadour, she has never been afraid to resist that tag, particularly with her most recent work. On her 11th release, Lionheart, Jackson strikes a perfect balance, drawing from the diverse musical talent pool in her native Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, with the results adding up to her most dynamic and satisfying collection of songs to date.
With the irresistibly melodic roots rocker “Running It Down” setting the tone at the album’s outset, Jackson colours Lionheart’s other 11 tracks with unique sonic touches, from the stripped down traditional folk of “Stormy Eyes,” to the sultry, minor key blues of “Outcast,” to the hard-edged rock of “Sometimes It’s OK.” Having worked with Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins in the producer’s chair—along with members of Skydiggers and other notable Toronto roots rock figures—on her acclaimed 2017 album Follow That Fire, Jackson chose to stay closer to home with Lionheart, taking control of the production reins with a specific vision in mind.
“Working with Michael was great, but a year after that I got involved in a raunchy, live-off-the-floor rock ‘n roll project with my friend Chris Colvin called Shipwreck Radios,” Jackson explains. “I wanted to work with Chris again, and that led to inviting a lot of other musicians from the K-W scene I’ve known and admired to participate. In producing an album on my own, which I’ve done in the past, I find a big part of it is matching players with songs—who’s more rock, who’s more blues, soul, folk, etc. So in that sense it really became a community effort.”
With drummer Jonny Sauder and bassist Scott Fitzgerald of blues stalwarts Elliott & The Audio Kings anchoring the rhythm section, Lionheart’s guest list includes the Motown-inspired vocal group the Divines, string players Wendy Wright and Alison Corbett, and saxophonist Don Featherstone. They, and other musicians on the album, beautifully enhance the depth of Jackson’s lyrics, which continue to mature with each record she makes.
“I never sit down and set out to write an album,” she says. “I just write songs as they come to me, and I let them be whatever they want to be. Some are more rootsy-folk sounding, some are rock, some are fingerpicking ballads. They’re all over the map; I write on both acoustic and electric guitars. However, I always, without exception, write the lyrics first. Some are fiction when I’m in story-telling mode, or some are just reactions to what I’m experiencing at that moment. But I feel like even if I’m telling a story from a character’s perspective or about a character, I think honesty is key to ultimately connecting with audiences.”
Along with the aforementioned standout tracks, Jackson points to the song “Cobwebs” as a prime example of breaking free from the typical folk singer formula. A tough, poetically dense rocker that channels both Lou Reed and Chrissie Hynde, it offers some valuable life lessons such as, “Love means always having to watch your back,” and “When you think you’ve got it all figured out, you’re not even close.”
“One night I was skimming through my lyric notebooks looking at little bits I had highlighted here and there,” she says. “I decided that I wanted them all, or most of them, to see the light of day somehow. So I put them together, and it filled up two full pages. Of course, the challenge then became how to fit them all into one song. The answer was to pull out my electric guitar, write a simple and upbeat chord progression, and add the words in a combination of singing and speaking. I swear that it wasn’t until six months later that I heard Lou Reed’s ‘Romeo Had Juliette’ for the first time and noticed the similarities!”
It’s not just Reed’s ghost that’s present on Lionheart. Along with a cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” that brilliantly utilizes Wright and Corbett’s dual fiddles, Jackson wrote “The Sound Of Everything” as a tribute to Leonard Cohen, one of her core influences. “I had a gig the night it was announced that Leonard Cohen had died,” she says. “Afterward, I came home to my rehearsal space, opened some wine, and started putting his records on. There was a weird moment when tears started to flow and I picked up my pen just to write anything. It became the first verse of the song, and after I read it a few times, the rest just poured out. I left it for a few months before writing the music, which I kept low key because I thought it suited the words.”
As she has evolved artistically, Jackson admits she’s learned from Cohen and other songwriting icons about the benefits of capturing a moment, rather than belaboring the creative process. As producer of Lionheart, it forced Jackson to walk a fine line between meeting her own high sonic standards while allowing the players’ personalities—including her own—to shine through. That she pulled it off so confidently speaks volumes about how far Jackson has come, and how far she can potentially go.
Lynn Jackson’s Lionheart is just as its title suggests, fierce and tender, courageous and vulnerable, but above all a powerful statement from an artist just beginning to reach their full potential.
Three Chords And The Truth (U.K.)
Planet Country (Italy)
Canadian Beats (Canada)
Fervor Coulee (Canada)
Americana UK (U.K.)
Gonzo Online (Canada)
Waterloo Region Record (Canada)
Keys And Chords (Belgium)
Fervor Coulee (Canada)
Hamilton Blues Lovers (Canada)
Canadian Beats (Canada)
Rudolf's Music (Belgium)
Reid Between The Lines (Canada)
Folk World (Germany)
Yeah Stub (Canada)
All Music (U.S.)
Follow That Fire
Songs Of Rain Snow And Remembering
The Acoustic Sessions
Down In The Dust