Jackie Bristow Shot of Gold: A Strong Woman Leans Forward
(Los Angeles) I love to see Jackie Bristow perform live and was reminded of why when I recently saw her do a short set at the Piano Bar in Hollywood. An imposing, six-foot-tall redhead with a mile-wide smile and a New Zealand accent, she combines the essence of both femininity and strength. The six songs she belted and crooned from the stage brought those two qualities together in a captivating musical synergy melding beautiful love and exquisite pain with hooks that stick around like a true friend. Her powerhouse song “Freedom” brought the house down as it always does. So I was delighted when she handed me a freshly-minted demo copy of her new album, Shot of Gold.
Bristow doubles down on her feminine strength in Shot of Gold. Every song leans forward, every song has a round, flowing-knowing, seductive wisdom, propelled by the restless moving ahead that is Bristow. Like its creator, Shot of Gold is the essence of feminine and strength, some of it written at a dark time in her life and all of it written close to the bone. Shot of Gold is simply stunning, surpassing even the exuberance and depth of her anthemic Freedom album. Shot of Gold gets into your head, your heart and your muscles and leaves you like gentle love making on a hot night — drained, sweaty and very, very happy.
The ten songs in Shot of Gold – two of which she previewed for us at the Piano Bar – range from the train-whistle pathos of “Whistle Blowin” to the heartbreak of “Kiss you Goodbye” and the heart-stabbing country blues of the title song. And while Shot of Gold is firmly country-folk, much like Kacey Musgrave spins out in Pageant Material, Bristow brings a female confidence to the bro-world that reaches far beyond a country and folk audience.
In many ways, Shot of Gold is a maturing of Bristow, a settling into herself and an understanding of how she affects her listeners. At its core is song writing firmly grounded in emotional concepts, whether it is the joy of “Freedom” (which was about her release from a bad recording contract) or the pain of leaving in “Kiss You Goodbye,” or the death of a young man in “Fallen Youth.” Like most artists, she has had her share of heartbreak to draw upon, and also the joy of her satisfied love – chronicled in “ I See Your Beauty.” She distills all of them into Shot of Gold, managing to keep the impact of her live performances while adding the depth that a studio can provide.
Bristow opens the album with high energy in “Whistle Blowin,” a classic country-framed railroad blues song. Accented by banjo notes and light cymbal brushes and driven by rhythm guitar and strong baseline, she tells a familiar story – but with a twist with a woman’s perspective with a voice so powerful and so melodic that is borders on the ghostly.
Having set the mood, she shifts us to a sad story, “Cry,” opening with song-talking over simple guitar strums and then soars as muted Celtic drum notes and shimmering cymbals underscore the story. The color pallet changes from the deep indigo of “Whistle Blowin” and “Crying” to a pastel in “I Don’t Want to Come Down.” With the rounded, deeply-feminine writing that characterizes her music, she spins out a gentle tale of the happiness of love and a life partner; she doesn’t want to come down and neither do we.
But feminine doesn’t mean retiring: for Bristow it means leaning forward, moving ahead and she reminds us of that in “Rollin Stone.” She may “dance to the tune and dance the night away” but she is in control — “can’t stop me…hear my call”. She lays down the lyrics with the banjo stressing her words and the bassline and rhythm guitar pouring energy and power into the movement.
“Kiss You Goodbye” showcases Bristow’s voice like no other song on the album. It opens with just her and a simple guitar strum, the lyrics glowing as they move across the backs of your eyelids. She sings with a slight southern accent curling the words into a country feel very good for a Kiwi), as she tells you “if you loved me you would be here with me, if you loved me I wouldn’t be questioning…I kiss you goodbye” as she leaves on her journey.
She continues the introspection in “Broken Record,” her voice simply set off with a single guitar and later with percussion touches and evocative violin or keyboard, a perfect set-up for “Shot of Gold.” “Broken Record” empowers her most urgent and poignant cinematic melody as she reels out her story to a poignant resonator guitar. “Take me as a I am…it’s a loaded gun” she sings. We are happy to do it and understand the taking is on her terms.
“You walk right into my life when I needed you most/it doesn’t mean it’s gonna come easy” she opens in “Gotta Let Love Find You,” softening her voice, molding it into the vortex of a lover’s smiling eyes as she counsels patience in a romance. She addresses you directly, as if you both were facing each other at her kitchen table, mugs of tea growing cold at your elbow, your hands wrapped in hers, her face glowing but her words drawing on memories of times when patience and romance both lost.
The warmth of “Gotta Let Love Find You” evaporates like the tail of the Cheshire cat and the entire world of the album changes at the first note of “Fallen Youth,” setting to music a poem from Bristow’s hometown library, written in remembrance of the Gallipoli 100 year reunion by an unnamed soldier. The sound quality becomes more open, as if it were recorded in a different studio. Her voice solidifies, becomes less personal, more separate, although very much present. The song of the death of a young man, sung over a guitar strum and violin or keyboard accents is not so much cold as metallic – caring but shielded, accusing those behind the scenes who order the death of young men. ”He stared at me through faded eyes/this is how a young man dies…it leaves me empty to be alive:” this is not the liquid voice of a lover, present or jilted, but the armored voice of a friend or a mother holding it together. As protected as this song it, you can’t listen without a lump in your throat.
Wisely, the album ends with “Healing,” which we need after “Fallen Youth.” The story is different – we are back to the personal, but the effect is the same. The feminine strength is back — gentle, relaxed but in control. A perfect ending..
Listening to Shot of Gold makes it easy to see why Jackie Bristow was personally chosen by Bonnie Raitt to tour her home country New Zealand as Bonnie Raitt’s opening act on the 2013 Slipstream tour, and why music from her third album, Freedom, was programmed into rotation at 7,000 Starbucks locations nationwide in the US. Shot of Gold will surpass the success of Freedom and her tours and firmly establish Jackie Bristow as an unstoppable female force in today’s country, folk and popular music.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!
Shot of Gold. By Jackie Bristow
Produced and mixed by Mark Punch, Mastered by Winter Lazerus
Release date: 2015
Pre-order at http://www.jackiebristow.com/ or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org