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Reviewed by Pedro Santos

Jackie Bristow: Outsider

Reviewed by Pedro Santos

Jackie Bristow: Outsider

The few bars of electronic percussion that introduce early single Livin’ For Love and open the album, suggest that ‘Outsider’ will show us something new from the normally straight-ahead country singer-songwriter, Jackie Bristow.

It’s a super song, and certainly warrants its place at the head of a 12-song queue, but any promise of a new stylistic palette is quite soon washed away with ripples of banjo and aching waves of pedal steel guitar – restrained, elegantly produced Americana country is what we have here.

Tennessee You Call Me Home provides firm proof, with its “…I walk for miles on the south side of the tracks”. Worth noting, as a guide to the consummate quality of musicianship throughout, that the drummer for this one is Ricky Fataar, well known as a regular with Bonnie Raitt, but also on a couple of Tim Finns early albums. 

Elsewhere, the drums are mostly handled either by name session musician Greg Morrow, Billy Idol’s drummer Erik Eldenius, or Norwegian percussionist Thomas Gallatin. It appears that the album’s producer, mixer, guitarist, co-writer (and longtime musical ally of Bristow), Mark Punch, had plenty of talent to choose from for the recording sessions in his Nashville studio. Not all tracks though.

Another Australian guitarist, Rick Price, took charge of the orchestral Without You, while the gently sparse Surrender is pretty much all machine-tracked by US producer Viktor Krauss (bassist/composer, and brother of Alison). In Surrender, Bristow talks about not being able to control things, and this album is firmly hinged on its title track, with the telling lyrics, “I’m always on the outside of the in-crowd…, never on the inside with the hip crowd, outsider.”

Bristow long ago left Gore to take her musical chances in Australia, has tried life in Texas and California, and these days lives in Nashville, yet tellingly received Creative NZ funding for this release. Outsider seems likely a piece of pure, honest songwriting, an opening of the heart – and sung by an angsty pop star could well prove a hit since most of us have felt just that. As the song comes to an end Bristow repeatedly sings, “(But) I’ve found my peace…” so perhaps we can trust that’s now all in her past?

There’s country-rock, country-pop, country-soul and country-more besides, making this is a fine album, for fans of Jackie Bristow especially, but for anyone who enjoys a great voice singing polished tunes that run along at a mid-tempo, mixing despair with hope.

It’s likely her best album yet, but somehow ‘Outsider’ leaves me wishing that at least one song really went all-in with a treatment to match the emotion – a deeply-dredged, out-of-her-comfort-zone version of the closing track Easy Road for example.

Possibly that’s just a Covid-induced craving to see some live music and feel that kind of gut-wrench you get when a singer-songwriter’s great song is performed stripped bare. Here, the dozen songs all come fully and artfully clothed.