"When love is new, the world turns in a kiss, I remember this, I remember spring . . .", sings Jennifer Jackson at the start of her second album Birds, delicately beginning a 12-song look at human beings and how they feel, think, dream and interact. Amid graceful pop melodies and instrumentation, Jackson uses her gorgeous, jazz singer's voice to examine the inner workings of humans.
The musical texture of Birds is lush, but without an abundance of instruments. Waves of vibes, cymbals, marimbas and other percussion create an elegant scene while crisp acoustic guitar and Jackson’s soaring voice guide the melodies. Both the music and the lyrics silently conjure up worlds of pop beauty.
The lyrics are almost surprisingly complex, without being anything other than straightforward or rooted in real life. That might sound like a paradox, but it isn’t. Her lyrics touch on so many ideas, feelings and stories in the simplest of ways, with the simplest words. On “Endless Green”, for example, Jackson conjures up an evocative, dreamy setting and then breaks the comfort with a series of complicated emotions: “Be a man, please be strong, so that I can just close my eyes, a child again / Oh to live in this place, it’s so soft, I’m afraid I’ll lose my sadness.” A close listen to Birds reveals enough thoughtful musings and questions to get your head and your heart spinning. From sorrow to bliss, nostalgia to awe, the whole story of human feeling is here.
Love is at the heart of Birds, but not Love Hollywood Style. In these songs lies the doubt, emotional conflict and sadness that accompany even the happiest love story. There’s also love for feelings, for situations, for places and what they evoke. On the slow, summer haze of “Naturally Blonde”, she is enchanted with the world around her (“Behind the blinds the afternoon sun put on a show”), and throughout the album her lyrics take careful notice of the world: of the sun, the moon, the sky, the grass, the streets and alleys. Place and the feeling of it are integral to Jackson’s music, yet her songs are ultimately always about people more so than atmosphere. These are stories of people, set against the backdrop of the world we live in, yet here that world is as much a part of the story as anything else. By bringing in weather, the seasons, animals, etc., Jackson tells the human story while placing it in an even larger one.
From the jazz-inflected opener “The Fade” and the slightly psychedelic “Mercury, the Sun and Moon” to the country-ish pop single/love song “What You Said” and the torch-singer ballad “My Impossible Love”, Jenifer Jackson covers a world of musical and emotional territory. Her mostly quiet, always beautiful pop songs explore the sadness of the collective human heart without giving up hope or undertaking the downward spiral of depression. This is powerful, sophisticated pop music that poetically delves into as many aspects of human emotion as one can expect from a creative work.