Gene Jackson – The Jungle
11 songs – 40 minutes
St Louis soul vocalist Gene Jackson’s debut album, 1963, came out in 2017 to critical acclaim, including glowing review in Blues Blast magazine and a Blues Blast Music Award nomination (new artist debut). The Jungle is his sophomore effort, and a very impressive one it is too.
The album features 11 original tracks that – like his debut – mine a classic Southern soul-blues sound. The opening track, “Thinking About It” is a prime example as the core band kicks off with a surging, toe-tapping groove before the horns enter to punctuate and accentuate the sound. Jackson’s voice is a highly impressive instrument, rich, soulful and full of character with the ability to both drive the song (as on “Thinking About It”) or to float subtly around the core melody as in the yearning ballad “Can That Woman Be You.”
“I Can’t Ignore It” benefits from a massed choral backing and strings as well as horns, all of which help to add to the overall 60s vibe, while the minor key “Won’t Hold Water” is the sort of song that Johnny Adams would have loved to have wrapped his pipes around.
The focus of The Jungle is very much on the quality of both Jackson’s voice and the song-writing. This is not an album of long instrumental introductions and solos, although the musicianship is top drawer throughout – tight but loose, with irresistible rhythm – and the production is glistening. Lyrically, Jackson addresses traditional fare such as love lost and won (albeit often from a novel perspective, such as on “It’s Not Just Sex”), but he also reflects on some very modern issues. On “Vaccine” he asks “Where is the vaccine? I don’t know. Covid-19” over some funky wah-wah guitar (the song was written before regulators approved any vaccines). On the title track, Jackson contemplates the challenges of drug addiction in urban areas.
Multi-instrumentalist Paul Niehaus IV, the powerhouse behind Blue Lotus Recordings, deserves significant credit for giving Jackson the exposure he has long deserved. If these is any justice in this world, The Jungle should increase that exposure exponentially. In the meantime, if your tastes lean towards Southern Soul played and sung with intelligence, panache and deep emotion, you should definitely pick up a copy of The Jungle.