Americana has always been a hard genre to pin down. The effortless fusion of country, blues, folk, rock and bluegrass defy easy classification, and frankly I’ve always told my friends that it’s ‘music that sounds like dirt.’ I don’t mean this as an insult, being a big fan of the genre myself, rather I mean it as music that sounds close to home, with a sound that doesn’t aim to cover up all the blemishes of true blue instrumentation. Brickwall Jackson is a band that understands this distinction well, as their sound is technically impressive while still remaining grounded, free of modern overproduction. These musicians know that it doesn’t just take playing chops to make good music: you also need that human touch, the heart that keeps the listener coming back for more.
Despite its singular name, Brickwall Jackson is a 4½ piece band who got their start in Richmond, Virginia (I say 4½ because it seems from promotional material that the main outfit is 4 people, with an extra member joining them sometimes for live events). The band is helmed by guitarist John Hudak, who mainly sings lead vocals, but there are also multiple occasions where he switches to backup, allowing their female vocalist to sing lead instead. I couldn’t find the names of the other 3½ musicians anywhere on the internet, and that's honestly a shame, since they certainly carry their own and contribute to Jackson’s strong and dynamic sound.
As previously mentioned, Americana thrives with day-to-day subject matter. Brickwall Jackson takes this to heart, and on this newest album, Stickin’ To It, you’ll find songs that tackle both the woes and joys of living everyday life. Tracks like ‘Begin’ and ‘Hole In My Heart’ attempt to make sense of troubled relationships, where love is waning yet still holding strong. Others like ‘Who’s Gonna Love You’ and ‘Tore Up’ play the opposite angle, instead putting down those who aim to hurt or use others for their own personal gain. This distinction marks one of Jackson’s greatest strengths, where in one moment they can serve up genuine sentimentality and in the next deliver some of the most rockin’ reassurance for anyone who’s ever felt put down or taken advantage of. This tightrope is a hard one to traverse, and it’s impressive to see Brickwall Jackson handle it with the ease and assuredness of musical veterans.
Another notable aspect of Jackson is their sense of humor, demonstrated on songs like ‘Whiskey Dick’ and the title track ‘Stickin’ To It.’ ‘Whisky Dick’ is a raucous piece about male compensation, with farces of traditional masculinity running rampant in its lyricism, and ‘Stickin’ To It’ is a humorous exploration of excuses and procrastination, where all kinds of covers try to justify the singer’s frequent inaction.
At the end of the album we have two live tracks as well, though unfortunately this title is a little misleading. The songs are only live in the sense that they were recorded in a different studio, but they do showcase the band in an active setting, as opposed to the tracks being assembled piece by piece. The result and addition of these tracks is not terrible, rather they’re quite welcoming. I just wish I could hear the band in front of a live audience, where I imagine their talents shine even brighter than when they’re playing it a bit safer in the studio. Brickwall Jackson very much surprised me with Stickin’ To It, and if you’re interested at all in the genre, I highly recommend keeping an eye on them. If they stick to their guns and make another album like this, I’ll certainly be coming back for more.
Written by Nick Snow