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Theo Jackson: Shoeless And The Girl

Bruce Lindsay By

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Theo Jackson's second album, Shoeless And The Girl, is an old-fashioned kind of record. That's "old-fashioned" as in melodic, swinging, understated, lyrically engaging—old-fashioned in a really good way.

Jackson's debut, Jericho (Self Produced, 2012), was impressive but the lengthy songs sometimes lost focus. Shoeless And The Girl is a more mature, more savvy, album: the songs all come in at under 5.40, the arrangements are tight and Jackson's lyrics are given the primacy they deserve. Bassist Huntly Gordon and percussionist Marco Quarantotto form a reliable partnership, their subtle playing fitting Jackson's songs beautifully (their work on "Lonesome George" is exquisite).

Mostly this is a trio album: horns appear on just four of the songs. Altoist Nathaniel Facey—the only member of the Jericho band to make an appearance here—adds tension and urgency to the swinging "Little Do You Know" with his dynamic solo; Leo Richardson's smoky tenor heightens the late-night atmosphere of "Peu M'Importe" and the warmth of the lovely but slightly strange "Moonchild"; Quentin Collins' bright flugelhorn gives "Shoeless And The Girl" added positivity.

Jackson's voice has matured since his debut, gaining resonance and lower-register strength. He's developing into a superb singer, a stylist whose voice communicates with a welcome clarity. He's not afraid to whistle either, opening and closing "Moonchild" with a few bars of that almost forgotten vocal art (although he's no Ronnie Ronalde).

Jackson gives lyrics to two Wayne Shorter tunes—Shorter has given his blessing to both. "Footprints" is a mid-tempo trio number: "Wild Flower," a solo performance, is subdued and melancholy, Jackson giving one of his best vocals of the set.

The lyrics deal with universal themes—love, loneliness, romance, sadness—but they often have a pleasing quirkiness. The sad and lonely narrator of "Lonesome George" could well be an old man reflecting on a life nearing its end but it's actually the tale of a sad and lonely Galapagos tortoise. "Love And A Shoestring," another strong solo performance, combines a ragtime-y piano hook with lyrics that take a somewhat earthy view of love and life on a limited budget: "Camberwell Butterfly" alludes to the life of a butterfly in telling the tale of a young woman finding her independence.

Fans of baseball legends might be disappointed to discover that Shoeless And The Girl makes no reference to Shoeless Joe Jackson—despite the probably tenuous chance of a family connection. Fans of melody, swing, engaging lyrics and understated musicality will encounter no such disappointment with the great songs and great performances on Shoeless And The Girl.

Track Listing: Little Do You Know; Moonchild; Lonesome George; Shoeless And The Girl; Footprints; Bella's Coming Home; Wild Flower; Peu M'Importe; Love And A Shoestring; Camberwell Butterfly.

Personnel: Theo Jackson: vocals, piano; Huntly Gordon: double bass; Marco Quarantotto: drums, percussion; Nathaniel Facey: alto saxophone (1); Leo Richardson: tenor saxophone (2, 8); Quentin Collins: flugelhorn (4).

Title: Shoeless And The Girl | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Dot Time Records

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