Jackson Dean - Live at the Ryman
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Live at the Ryman (Big Machine Label Group, 2023)

Jackson Dean

Reviewed by Al Cunniff

When he was 18, Jackson Dean moved out of a shack on his grandfather's property in the small town of Odenton, Md. and left to pursue a career in music. After just a couple of years, he had a record label deal. Then his debut single, "Don't Come Lookin'," reached number three on Billboard's Country Airplay chart, and his debut album, "Greenbroke," released in 2022, was a hit.

Dean's soulful, raw-edged vocals and gripping storylines draw the listener in from the songs' opening measures. There are hints of the Outlaw sound that artists such as Waylon Jennings were known for, but this is a more contemporary version, with more power and emotion and which digs deeper into the soul.

Rare for a label to release a live album this early in an artist's career, "Live at the Ryman" is an eight-song album that includes six tunes from the album "Greenbroke," plus two new tunes. Produced by Dean and producer/songwriter Luke Dick (whose credits also include Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley), this guitar-heavy album was recorded at Dean's debut performance at the Ryman in October 2022.

Dean co-wrote every song here, and it's hard not to be amazed at how someone so young -he's 22 - can pack so much grit, vulnerability, and sensitivity into each song. Dean said his songs go "through calm, rage, and everything in between," and that range is reflected here. He said he identifies most closely with the song "Greenbroke," a moody, minor-key piece about someone who left home young, determined to "draw my own damn line in the sand."

"Trailer Park" has terrific imagery, from a castle on a 12-inch block to a breadcrumb trail of shotgun shells to the singer's "mind runnin' like a freight train and a heart like a trailer park." The singer's wild streak is at the center of "Fearless," whose music video Dean described as an "epic mini movie." Dean's sensitive side emerges on "Wings," and another beauty from left field is "Heavens to Betsy" (one of the two new songs), an ethereal tune in which the singer regrets not having been a better man for his loyal woman. Dean's hit single "Don't Come Lookin'" gets an energetic makeover here.

This live album offers a fresh interpretation of Dean's hit debut album, and it's well worth a listen by his fans as well as those who are just discovering this unique singer-songwriter.

CDs by Jackson Dean

Live at the Ryman, 2023

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