Kara Jackson — Songs of Love

photo by Lawrence Agyei

Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? It is a beautiful yet gut-wrenching piece of work. It is as reflective as it is unforgettable.

The album is the latest from 23-year-old Kara Jackson, tackling matters of the heart with masterful storytelling, while weighing with precision the costs of love and the price of losing it. Throughout these thirteen songs, the artist explores her own self-worth by employing intricately arranged melodies blended with sparse yet compelling instruments.

The debut LP, released in April 2023 via September Records, follows Jackson’s 2019 EP, A Song for Every Chamber of the Heart. That same year the Oak Park, Illinois native was named the U.S. National Poet Laureate and published a book of poems, Bloodstone Cowboy.

On Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?, Jackson shows off her poetic bona fides. She dives heart first into “no fun/party,” as she imagines what love is in the current era of constant distractions. With this deceptive lullaby, backed by a banjo, a weepy violin, and the gentle pluck of an acoustic guitar, Jackson decides, ‘It’s hard to have patience when you’re waiting on luck / Like a postal truck, like a postal truck / To bring you a love as tough as elephant tusks.’ She further complains about being ‘taken for granted’ by every person she has dated.

“dickhead blues” is a stark rendering of the love-loss continuum. She sighs knowingly, ‘Damn the dickhead blues,’ a palpable melancholy dripping from Jackson’s lonesome guitar. Later, ‘thinking Cupid calls for you’ is juxtaposed with the reality of ‘End up (being) gum on someone’s shoe.’ The poet then discards ‘losers who find themselves losing me,’ as she repeats again and again, her mantra, ‘I am pretty top-notch,’ Convinced of this, she declares, ‘I’m useful!’

Amid a lush arrangement of organ, percussion, electric and slide guitars, Jackson’s husky voice is a witness that ‘sleep isn’t cheap’ and ‘love is no currency’ on the ephemeral “brain.” On “free,” a breakup hymn, she stretches her wide vocal range almost to its breaking point as she questions an ex-lover directly,
‘can’t you see I’m free?!,’ before warning, ‘Don’t bother me!’

The title track is an ominously arranged memorial to Maya, a friend of Jackson’s who died of cancer in 2016. The artist’s vocals soar here, as if searching the skies for an answer, ‘Why does the earth give us people to love / then take them away from our reach?’ She then recalls, ‘I’ve buried old, and young / I’ve watched them lower a saint.’ ‘We’re only waiting our turn / Call that living?,’ she questions existentially.

These are songs about love, but none are love songs. Other tracks that complete the opus include “pawnshop,” in which Jackson describes herself as an item, ‘used, but good as new,’ then transposes the shininess of a party balloon with the permanence of a tattoo; and “lily,” where the singer’s voice falls to its deepest low in a duet with her guitar. “liquor” is the record’s closer, where Jackson laments being ‘sick of cures’ that make her even sicker.

The near hour-long album is a constant tug-of-war between love and heartbreak, but in these matters, Jackson plants her flag firmly on the side that suggests that it is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.

Jackson received production help from fellow Chicagoans KAINA, NNAMDÏ, and Sen Morimoto throughout the record. No doubt challenging her to explore the highs and lows of her main instrument, her assured, husky voice. Jackson and company construct a rousing and indelible debut, where the lyrics linger on long after listening and whose minimalist instrumentation transcends the indie-folk genre. G&S

IG: karakara

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