California’s Gone Country
Nashville doesn’t have a monopoly on country music. Right here in the Golden State, we’ve got our own twangy brand of alt-country.
- CategoryMusic + Culture
Rolling Stone just published a list of the “25 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2017 So Far.” And since I’m a sucker for all things Americana, bluegrass and outlaw country, I stopped what I was doing and listened to songs off every single album. Remarkably, several of the artists who were included hail from right here in California.
Here’s a closer look at three of them:
Jaime Wyatt’s newest release Felony Blues, is largely an autobiographical collection of convict love stories, prison songs and honky-tonk laments. The Los Angeles-based Wyatt is an outlaw country musician who actually sings from a place of experience, having spent eight months in an Oxnard jail for felony counts of home invasion and robbery after robbing her drug dealer. Earlier this year, LA Weekly called her “the 50 Cent of Outlaw Country.”
Country radio station 95.3 The Bear recently named her, alongside Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price, as “one of the country artists you may not have heard of, but need to hear.”
Rolling Stone’s Brittney McKenna writes, “Outlaw country has been all the rage over the last few years, but few artists claiming the outlaw moniker can actually say they’ve seen the inside of a jail cell. Los Angeles’ Jaime Wyatt is one of those few, but don’t let her rap sheet fool you. While her debut release Felony Blues can burn barns and honky-tonk with the best of them, it also shows Wyatt to be well versed in vulnerable songwriting—tracks like ‘Giving Back the Best of Me’ are worthy of comparison to works by songwriters Brandy Clark and Lori McKenna. Somewhere between an EP and an album, the seven-track collection introduces Wyatt as a welcome new voice in country music, outlaw or otherwise.”
Chris Shiflett has played multiple roles during his 20+ year career, fronting his own band one minute and serving as the Foo Fighters’ longtime guitarist the next. He turns a new corner with West Coast Town, an autobiographical solo album that finds Shiflett pulling triple-duty as singer, songwriter and bandleader. Working with Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb, Shiflett—a California native who grew up in Santa Barbara—writes about an adolescence spent onstage, on the beach and on the prowl. During the nostalgic title track, “West Coast Town,” a teenage Shiflett chases girls along the Pacific Ocean shoreline, returning home at night to his childhood home on Salinas Street.
About “left coast country,” Shiflett has said, “It’s a louder, twangier, more aggressive version of country that came out of the environment of playing shows for rowdy fans looking to cut loose after a hard day of working in the oil fields and out on the farms.”
Says Rolling Stone’s Robert Crawford, “The longtime Foo Fighters guitarist salutes his homeland, collaborates with Dave Cobb and takes his Telecaster for a twangy spin on this Americana solo album. The autobiographical songs spin stories of a childhood spent in working-class Santa Barbara and adult years logged on the road, where hotels, hangovers and heartaches all swirl together. Shiflett’s punk roots shine through the mix, adding grit to a brand of country music that owes as much to the spirit of blue-collar roots rock as the electrified punch of Bakersfield.”
Jade Jackson has spent much of her time in a small California town, working in her parents’ restaurant, jotting down verses and picking out chords during breaks, then venturing eventually to more formal music studies in college before coming back home and startling listeners with the depth and intensity of her music.
How did Jackson develop this command so young? First, of course, she was born with talent, which her home life nurtured. Though neither parent was a musician, both of them—especially her father—listened constantly to a range of artists, from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to The Smiths, The Cure and assorted punk outfits. After seeing Social Distortion for the first time when she was 13, Jackson finally met producer Social D’s Mike Ness when she was in college. He went on to sign her to his Anti- Records label and produce her debut album Gilded.
“Her crisp, twangy sound puts her in league with several other emerging California roots-music acts, including Sam Outlaw, Calico and Jaime Wyatt,” writes Mikael Wood in a recent Los Angeles Times article.
Rolling Stone’s Crawford says, “Mixing alt-country croon with dark Americana swoon, Gilded introduces Jade Jackson as another heiress to Neko Case’s throne. She gets a boost from her producer, Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness, who steers her debut album away from Music Row sonic pitfalls and, instead, focuses on Jackson’s husky vocals and small-town storytelling. One minute, she’s the girl next door, singing with wounded tenderness about lost love. The next, she’s turning ‘Motorcycle’ into a femme-fatale anthem, brushing off the boys like some sort of California-country Bond girl.”
What other states could learn from the state’s aggressive electric agenda.