Willie Jackson  
All in the Blues

4.5/5 reels

Singer/songwriter Willie Jackson has a strong, resonant blues voices, but an equally powerful sense of playfulness, both of  which combine for a fun album of hard-working blues.

"Hard-working" can sometimes mean subtext, like the artist is trying but not necessarily succeeding. That's not the case here. Jackson, who works out of coastal Georgia and South Carolina, builds his songs around a specific vision and sticks the landing every time. The tracks are funny, even goofy sometimes, but his voice is pure blues and his band is ridiculously tight and disciplined. It works for the album, and it's easy to imagine how much fun he must be live.

For instance, on "I'm Your Landlord," a cash register sound effect runs through the song, almost like a morning zoo radio show, Jackson playing a sleazy landlord hitting on his neighbor, speak-singing in a rich voice, reminiscent of Muddy Waters, but charmingly modern. Jackson isn't trying to be cool or dangerous. He's capturing a slice of life in a comical way, something that's much harder to do than it seems.

"The Old Man Luv" is an odyssey, with background vocals and a generous coating of organ, plus horns. The melody is addictive and Jackson's vocals dominate the tune in a good way. The whole album is mixed to place Jackson front-and-center in the tracks. The backing music can sometimes sound a little thin and distant, but it actually works well for the album, giving it a vintage sound. Maybe it was a choice and maybe it wasn't, but if it works, it works.

Another song benefiting from atypical production choices is "Hey Gangsta," a revenge fantasy song from the perspective of a father going after the creep hurting his daughter. Here funky bass and '80s synth sounds mingle with Jackson's classic vocals, an odd bit of temporal cross-pollination that makes for a compelling listen. The slight musical detour works well on an album that also has a no-nonsense blues like "She Need Satisfied," which is as close as Jackson comes to a traditional blues, aided by Ace Anderson's lovely Chicago-style harmonica.

All in the Blues is striking and memorable because of Jackson's commitment to the songs. He's not trying to present himself as anything he's not. Every song gives you a powerful image of who he is as a songwriter and performer. There are some production aspects that feel a bit dated, but it doesn't matter because of the emotion and sincerity driving all of these tracks. The authenticity transcends production and makes for an entertaining album of blues. Jackson is a regional artist, but an interesting one.