“Crafting some of the most beautiful compelling Americana today”."
For Jackie Bristow, the lure of the road has informed her music in ways that don’t limit her to any specific location on the globe. Like the classic singer-songwriters who have inspired her, Jackie has made her travels–both literal and metaphorical–a major part of her free-roaming subject matter.
Like Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin and Bonnie Raitt, Jackie has created a body of work that will endure, recording with her long-time musical partner, Australian-born guitarist and producer Mark Punch, and writing finely shaded songs that are at once personal and universal. After refining her art in Sydney, and in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, Jackie moved in 2017 to one of the centers of American music, Nashville, Tennessee. Already four superb albums into a career that is marked by her intelligence, passion and love for the song–these include her ravishingly beautiful singer-songwriter masterpiece, 2015’s Shot of Gold–Jackie is learning from Nashville, where singer-songwriters, country stars and Americana avatars mingle. In Music City, she’s working on a forthcoming album with Mark Punch, and she continues to tour the world, where this singular guitarist, singer and songwriter feels right at home.
In January 2020, Jackie takes off for a two-month tour of New Zealand that will give her the opportunity to play the wonderful new songs she’s been writing in Nashville. New Zealand is, in fact, Jackie’s home. She was born on New Zealand’s South Island, in Gore, where she got her start singing in a duo with her sister. The Bristow Sisters played country festivals all over the South Island, singing folk and country songs by the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson and the Judds. No doubt Jackie was on a steep learning curve, taking in the beauty of the Judds’ “Why Not Me.”
You can tell she got the picture from learning the classics, and she put the lessons to good use. She dived into songwriting as a teenager, got a thorough grounding in the basics at a music school in New Zealand, and learned the business, making useful connections from the circuit. This prepared Jackie for the big move she made in 1998, when she went to Sydney and, eventually, met Mark Punch, who had been playing in bands and writing songs around Sydney. Mark immediately saw Jackie’s flair for songwriting, encouraged her to keep writing, and they began working together, developing their unique sound through necessity. (As he says: “We started doing little gigs around Syndey, just as a duo, because we couldn’t afford to pay a band or anything.”)
Jackie’s 2002 debut album, Thirsty, was cut partly in Los Angeles with bassist and producer Larry Klein, who had produced major records by Joni Mitchell, along with Shawn Colvin’s 1992 Fat City and a series of albums by neo-jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux. Jackie learned valuable lessons by working with Klein, who taught her some of Joni’s famed open tunings, which she still uses today in songwriting and performance. (Some of Thirsty was recorded in Sydney and Nashville.) Even more to the point, she figured out who she was.
“You know, I was into the singer-songwriter stuff–Shawn Colvin and Joni Mitchell–and Larry had done the Fat City album,” Jackie says. “My label really wanted to push me a bit more pop, and I wanted to go the singer-songwriter route. It was a great experience working with him.” Jackie honed her art in Los Angeles before moving to the storied alt-country-blues mecca of Austin in 2008. She soaked up the Texas-to-Tennessee musical culture of Austin, spent more time in Los Angeles, and made the move to Nashville, to which Mark Punch had recently relocated, in early 2017.
Jackie and Mark are a formidable duo, as Nashville audiences have discovered. Jackie is a classic, compelling, post-Laurel Canyon folk-country guitarist and a singer with more than a touch of soul. Mark’s brilliant guitar supports her, and his blues-based lines color the emotional landscape of Jackie’s songs.Their uncanny cohesion and love for the song put them into the stratosphere of singer-songwriters, the ones whose music you live with.
Jackie released the 2008 album Crazy Love, followed by 2010’s Freedom, which she and Mark recorded in Austin and Sydney. Freedom shows off Jackie’s soul chops–”Running” (with blues star Gary Clark Jr. singing harmony) sports an impeccable 6/8 gospel feel, while “Hightail It Outta Here” and “Rebel in My Soul” are easy-rolling soul and rock ‘n’ roll.
Returning to her roots as a singer-songwriter influenced by great ‘70s innovators like Joni Mitchell, Jackie recorded 2015’s Shot of Gold with Mark providing the lion’s share of the backing. Shot of Gold evokes Joni’s Hejira–it’s simultaneously rich and restrained, with a formal beauty that plays off Mark’s shimmering layers of acoustic and electric guitars.
Shot of Gold builds on the strengths of Jackie’s music, and her new music promises to fold in elements of R&B and Southern soul. Using Nashville musicians like drummer Greg Morrow and saxophonist Sam Levine, Mark and Jackie are working on a set of songs that sound like she’s ready to take over Memphis–their horn arrangements and Willie Mitchell-like grooves suggest Jackie’s future in Nashville, as a global artist, is very bright.
There’s two weeks in New Zealand in January, and back to Nashville, where she and Mark are working toward the completion of a forthcoming album that, they promise, will be tinged with that Nashville-to-Memphis country-soul I mentioned earlier. Jackie plans to release her new single, “Blue Moon Rising,” in early 2020.
It’s all part of the journey, from Gore to Music City. Along the way, Jackie has built up on an impressive list of achievements that include opening for Bonnie Raitt in 2013 and 2017, as well as shows with estimables like Foreigner, the Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs and Tommy Emmanuel. She says touring with Bonnie Raitt–one of her heroes–was a life-affirming experience. Bonnie Raitt, Jackie says, made her feel welcome.
Jackie is a true artist–a world-class songwriter and singer who makes, to put it simply, great-sounding records that repay listening and listening. Jackie and Mark’s studio chops are for real, and equal to the complexities of her music. And then there’s Jackie’s mysterious, empathetic, life-affirming songs. By immersing herself in the deep waters of American music, whether it comes from Los Angeles, Texas, Nashville and Memphis, Jackie transcends the local, and becomes an artist for the whole world.
Nashville, December 2019