iTunes initially, and then streaming, have driven the music industry to produce one-hit wonders. With hit “singles” all readily accessible and collectible in one place, personal playlists have replaced the traditional album. But there was a time when artists intended their entire long-playing musical releases to stand as a single work of art. Providing a slow-burning deeper intoxication with each repeated listen Thunder Jackson’s self-titled debut album is a throwback to that tradition. While the form may be traditional, the music is as inventive as it is ingenious.
Opening with the sugar-coated industrial dirge of “Institution” Jackson pines, “Put me in an institution/I think I may have lost my mind.” A sentiment that is quickly becoming universal these days. The influences of blue-eyed soul and artists like Prince are present but fleeting, never diminishing the music’s originality.
Thunder uses his voice instrument to add flair to the catchy synth-pop of “Colours.” The song is a top-down summer night of fun. His voice, which is somehow simultaneously driving but also delicate, carries much of the record. Using a falsetto that is sometimes subtle, often soaring, and always nuanced, songs like the haunting “Caroline,” the forlorn “Lucky,” and the desperate “S.O.S.” succeed despite bare-bones musical accompaniment. While the actual music is mostly bright, the songs lyrically point to a darker self-examination belying the artist’s twenty-three years. “Maybe it’s emotional, maybe it is chemical/maybe it’s a symptom of an ordinary life/maybe it’s my family tree haunting me/I just need another one to make it through the night.”
“Love Sick Doctor” with layered synthesizer loops under the mix of a bass and keyboard line is one of the record’s more intricate and best tracks. “I’m a dragon in a dream on a flight to the moon/Does anybody feel this way?/only you, only you, only you.” The enchanting melody takes you right on the trip with him. The song also features a backing monologue by his father, who provided Jackson’s first introduction to music and performance.
Thunder Jackson, whose real name is Kyle Bradley, grew up in Piedmont, Oklahoma. His father performed the state fair circuit as an Elvis impersonator. With his father’s assistance in obtaining a special license, he started playing local bars at 14. By the time he was 15, he was averaging three gigs a week. At 19, he decided to pursue a music career seriously and moved to Los Angeles.
He paid his dues playing on the streets seven days a week for a year and a half straight. Discouraged and with little to show for his efforts, he contemplated returning East. “Carrying your wagon three miles down to the promenade every day for a year and nobody really giving a shit about you took a toll on me,” Jackson says. “All I was doing is playing until ten, coming home and sitting in my crappy little apartment.” His father encouraged him to stick it out.
The universe’s impermanence then intervened when Jackson happened to share an Uber with a British musician, Pete Lawrie Winfield, of Until the Ribbon Breaks. Winfield, who masterfully produced the release, introduced Jackson to VERO music. A division of the revolutionary no ads, no data mining, no algorithm social media platform VERO. “Thunder Jackson” is the first album released by the entity’s newly formed music label. The music industry has exploited artists’ talents for financial gain since its inception. Musicians are treated at best as disposable and, at worst, as a necessary evil. VERO Music is determined to break that stereotype. As their homepage states, “VERO Music supports artists with the creative freedom to support their vision and the commercial transparency to build sustainable careers.“
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