Jackie Bristow has taken many musical journeys to reach her fifth album. The New Zealand native has gone to Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles to Austin to Nashville to pursue her artistic vision. Outsider finds her standing at crossroads — of soul and country; rock ’n’ roll and singer-songwriter folk — and reveals her drive to embrace change, keep moving, and to discover something new and exciting.
While building upon the strengths of her previous albums, Bristow drew inspiration from the music of the American South — particularly the myriad sounds found in her adopted home, Nashville. “Nashville feels like a melting pot in a hub of creativity,” says Bristow. “Being exposed to such great American music has really inspired me.”
Outsider, Bristow’s debut effort for Mesa Bluemoon Recordings, is slated for a March 4, 2022 release. With its mix of acoustic and electric guitars, pedal steel and banjo — and strings and horns, the album stands as a triumph by a singer-songwriter who American Songwriter has hailed as “crafting some of the most beautiful, compelling Americana today.”
Bristow recorded it mostly with her longtime musical partner Mark Punch (Kasey Chambers, Tim Finn) at his Nashville studio before Covid shut down the world. Punch, a Country Music Association of Australia “Musician of the Year” winner, produced 11 of the album’s 12 tracks, adding his own subtle, allusive guitar lines. As always, he’s a remarkably empathetic accompanist for Bristow, as their amazing live shows as a duo make clear.
“Without You” stands as a country-rock instant classic that suggests the stylish Western vibe of Jimmy Webb and Jackson Browne. Beautiful and timeless, this endearing earworm of a track is propelled by a jaunty, swinging beat, set off by a striking strings arrangement courtesy of producer Rick Price and orchestrator Kristin Wilkinson (Chris Stapleton, Neil Young, John Prine). Also gracing this tune are such session wizards as drummer Fred Eltringham (Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood) and pedal steel player Dan Dugmore (James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt).
Price also joins singer Kristen Rogers (Lori McKenna, Brent Cobb) in lending their vocals to “Tennessee” and “Fool for You.” Outsider is blessed throughout by contributions from an all-star cast of hip studio musos. Acclaimed Norwegian singers Tor Egil Kreken and Mari Kraken, well-known to Americana fans around the world from the band Darling West, contribute an ethereal grandeur to the tracks “Shaking My Bones” and “Easy Road.”
Bristow’s American Music inspiration is clear on the standout number, “Surrender,” on which she plays on acoustic guitar. The track was produced by renowned bassist Viktor Krauss and mixed by Mark Punch. The esteemed musician, who also is Alison Krauss’ brother, plays virtually every instrument on this track.
While immersed in the traditions of acoustic singer-songwriters, Bristow’s rich, sumptuous music also directs listeners to another fabled Tennessee music hub: Memphis. The album’s R&B-tinged singing and soulful guitar work hold an understated charm and groove that recall the Hi Records hits the legendary Willie Mitchell produced for Al Green and Ann Peebles. It’s a sound that figures prominently on her 2020 release Blue Moon Rising, which contains backing vocals from Tabitha Fair (Rosanne Cash, Travis Tritt, Sting) and horn arrangements by Sam Levine (Willie Nelson, Aaron Neville).
Outsider builds upon the strengths of Bristow’s critically acclaimed 2015 album Shot of Gold. Stuff hailed that release as “the confident, unflinchingly direct work of a strong, talented woman,” while Pop Matters declared that Bristow was “primed for success on the now-global Americana scene with beautifully composed music and straight-from-the-heart lyrics.”
Shot of Gold also drew favorable comparisons to the best of Joni Mitchell’s 1970s work, which makes sense considering Bristow recorded much of her well-received 2002 debut, Thirsty, with producer Larry Klein, who also produced Mitchell as well as another Bristow touchstone, Shawn Colvin. Klein, in fact, taught Bristow some of Joni’s famed open tunings, which she still uses today.
Thirsty brought Bristow to Los Angeles after she had spent several years honing her craft in Sydney, where she met Punch and the two began working and performing together. As he has described it: “We started doing little gigs around Sydney, just as a duo, because we couldn’t afford to pay a band.” Bristow’s love of music, however, had started even earlier. Growing up in the small New Zealand town of Gore, Bristow formed a duo with her sister Katrina and, as the Bristow Sisters, they played local country music festivals, singing classic country and folk songs, and winning several awards.
Bristow followed Thirsty with Crazy Love, where she was backed by Punch and an ace L.A. crew including drummer Don Heffington (Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan), keyboardist Larry Goulding (James Taylor, Leonard Cohen), and Klein on bass. The noted critic Chet Flippo called the album “hypnotizing” and raved that Bristow is “a true original and well worth your attention … Not many writers in any musical genres give the attention and depth to lyrics that Bristow obviously does.” By the time of her third effort, Freedom, Bristow had moved on to Austin, Texas. Freedom, featuring a guest spot from Gary Clark Jr., racked up more accolades (from “confirms a major talent” to “a class act to watch”) as did her fourth outing, Shot of Gold (“magical stuff…a great album”).
Outsider might be an accurate way to describe the now Nashville-based Bristow, who exhibits the musical curiosity and love for learning that drives all true artists. Bristow, however, also is very much an insider when it comes to expressing her brand of Country Soul Americana and her beautiful new album wonderfully underscores her musical depth and commitment to conveying her deeply felt songs.