Jackson Emmer – Last Known Photograph Of Jackson Emmer

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Jackson Emmer – Last Known Photograph Of Jackson Emmer

From the well-known ski resort of Aspen CO, The Last Known Photograph… is in fact the second complete album from the 28-year old singer-songwriter Jackson Emmer, who has already gained a significant local reputation in and around the Denver district for his songs and live performances. Whilst Emmer himself appears to underplay his own publicity, emphasising the less traditional side of his sound, there’s a lot about the eight tracks on the album that could qualify it as about as near to mainstream country as an alt. folk musician ever gets.

First track “Hands”, with its lyrical story of working just that bit too hard to keep the engine running and its resolute grasp of tempo, only needs a slide guitar to complement its musical references to Springsteen and Steve Earl and you’d think the song had originated in Nashville, instead of from The Rockies. “My hands are tired / My horse is wired” goes the chorus, and there’s a defined authenticity in Emmer’s playing and vocals that suggests his own experience has fuelled the song.

Second track “Six Four Time” is a less powered song, but only just, and again Emmer’s lyrics contain a realism that brings with it some memorable imagery – “While beatbox players and old soothsayers all work here for a dime” goes the repeated vocal ending – written perhaps during an hour spent at a Denver truck stop. It’s then obvious that “Hands” wasn’t a fluke. Emmer is a songwriter and musical arranger of quite some ability and as the album progresses the themes and musicality make for a listening experience that develops a compelling momentum, making for a record where every note contains a lived-in resonance and is as accomplished an alt. country performance as I’ve heard for some time.

“Score” is a song taken at a more measured pace, and highlights the keyboard playing of Trevor Wilson, whose electric piano adds a mellow backdrop to a tale of low-budget touring and nights spent either in fields or on the hastily provided floors of sympathetic fans. It’s the track that takes the album sound away from the country style and towards something nearer to a lounge bar blues, tying in with Emmer’s penchant for sliding the occasional Tom Waits number into his live sets. The pared-down cadences of “Rock The Simple Cradle” and its guitar resonances accompany a deeply felt reflection on consumerist ethics (“The mailman brought the catalogue / Even though you have it all”) that is a subtly-phrased commentary on life’s iniquities.

As the album moves forwards, we get to hear a reminiscence of life as a fast-food delivery driver on “Living On The Cheap”, a philosophical reassessment of a fading relationship with “Glow” and coping with the demands of daily existence on a Colorado farm with the intricate guitar and electronica of “Rocky Winds Blow”. For the finale of “Texas Last” Emmer shares with us some thoughts on visiting the lone star state (“The sun may shine in Amarillo / Crooked and crazed were the clouds” ). And if there’s a story Emmer wants to share with us that happened whenever he took his guitar south of Oklahoma, it’s one that provided an inspiration rather than an actual verbatim anecdote. “The freaks all live in Austin / But Houston has ’em too'” runs the lyric just before Emmer and his band go off into an improvisation, with squalling guitars muffling the relatively sedate drum and keyboard backing.

There is a lot to recommend Last Known Photograph… for Emmer is a skilful and quotable lyricist, with a voice that expresses his own particular world-weariness and experience without falling into overly sentimentalising or getting too brusque with his songs. Moreover, his backing band are a collection of notable instrumentalists, including aforementioned keyboardist Trevor Wilson (also of Anawan), inventive drummer Alison May and fiddle-player Sam Moss, whose appearances enliven several of the tracks. If I listened to more alt. country I could make some more relevant comparisons between Jackson Emmer and other contemporary musicians making similar music and, while those albums don’t seem to reach me so often nowadays, I will listen to him again. Last Known Photograph… hopefully won’t be the last we hear from a musician whose voice may prove a significant one on the alt. country circuits.