The short version: ‘Jumping Over Rocks’ asks loaded questions about the meaning of life and features Jamie Lin Wilson at the top of her game in terms of her songwriting.
The long version: It seems like everyone in the independent country scene is the world’s current best songwriter, doesn’t it? Granted, one of this scene’s problems is the endless cushioning and propagation for material that doesn’t really deserve it, but every now and then, an artist will emerge that truly earns the praise.
Jamie Lin Wilson just may already be the queen of the Texas country and Red Dirt scenes. If her work with the the Gougers and the Trishas provided the backbone for that case, her 2015 solo album, Holidays and Wedding Rings sealed it shut. Now, after a long wait and a successful PledgeMusic campaign, we’re all treated to her sophomore album, Jumping Over Rocks, easily a late contender for one of 2018’s best projects.
This album probably came around at the best time of year. With the transition from fall to winter, an album that strips back the instrumentation and production in favor of meatier lyrical content makes this an easy project to enjoy. Granted, it’s not like the former department is lacking in any sort of muscle. The guitar driving “The Being Gone” has a good amount of groove to it, and “Eyes For You” brings in brighter tones and steel guitar to paint a happier picture.
Still, at its core, it’s the songwriting that needs to be addressed first when discussing Jumping Over Rocks. This album finds Wilson grappling with the struggles of her career and the mortality of life itself. Sometimes the messages are direct, such as her beautifully written song, “The Being Gone,” and other times they come out of nowhere, like how a night in paradise with a lover on “Oklahoma Stars” comes with the realization that these two will go their separate ways after this night, possibly to never see each other again.
More than that though, Jumping Over Rocks tries to find the answer to whether the struggles we face are worth anything in the end. That’s why the Guy Clark cover of “Instant Coffee Blues” fits like a glove here, as all that track amounts to for its characters by its end is loneliness and regret (and, sidenote, Jack Ingram channels his inner Clark excellently here).
Of course, no track really hits harder with this theme than “Death and Life,” absolutely one of the best songs of the year. Wilson’s writing is in a league all its own, with the poetic nature of the track detailing the vicious circle of needing life to end in order for it to begin again. Sure, the common cliché of both younger and older people wanting to be like the other is prevalent, but the aforementioned point Wilson makes regarding the cycle at least sparks a sense of hope in the listener.
And really, despite the somber nature of Jumping Over Rocks, its main message is to keep hope alive, if not for us then for the ones around us. Whether it be holding onto a mental image of a good day on “In A Wink” or the sweet simplicity of the love song, “Eyes For You,” it serves to show how our actions, even the smallest ones, can bring hope and inspiration for others, even if we don’t know it.
As for the bigger question of what life actually is, of course nobody can provide an answer to that, and that’s why it’s fitting then that the album ends on the more melancholic “If I Told You,” as once again the narrator is at a crossroads with her life, asking the same questions as before despite the lessons learned, because it is a complex matter that we’ve all grappled with at some point.
Of course, sometimes the messages are a little too on the nose, like how “Everybody’s Moving Slow” advocates for taking things slow … literally. The slower tempo for the track is understandable, but there’s really not much else to rope the listener in with, making it seem like more of a gimmicky track that something that’s truly trying to get a message across.
“Run” asks questions of whether or not it’s worth it to stay in a toxic relationship, and while the intent is understandable in setting up that complex duality of both sides, when the significant other in this case is portrayed as having little to no positive traits, it sort of makes the song’s question a moot point.
This is mostly evident in the slower tracks overall though. “Faithful & True” adds the album’s underlying complex narrative, but it seems to be missing a few details to really flesh out the story fully.
Still, this track does serve to highlight Wilson’s vocals. There are more than a few times here where the listener can hear her voice crack, but when the tracks are grounded in this more serious nature, it only adds to the raw power they exude. To put it simply, the sadder songs hit with that much more of a punch. On the other hand, she shows great command on a track like “Oklahoma Stars,” especially during the chorus.
Now, the two best tracks by far are “The Being Gone” and “Death & Life,” and that’s because they offer the most value as complete packages (although “If I Told You” is a close third). As mentioned previously, “The Being Gone” adopts some bluesy, atmospheric tones to help create that distant feeling of being away from her family. “Death & Life” on the other hand is seeped in liquid pedal steel and dobro to really give the track a dark, moody edge. If anything, I do wish the album had a few rougher moments such as these, because they’re two of her finest songs yet and add to the gravity of their messages. They also help give the album a more unique presence than just a pedal steel and acoustic guitar driven singer/songwriter project.
Still, overall Jumping Over Rocks is a heavy handed project that pulls no punches in what its trying to get across. The songwriting is some of the best one can hear this year, and while the production could have afforded to be a little more exciting in certain spots, the songs themselves more than make up for it. Hopefully that message of hope makes it way to the Wilson we hear singing “The Being Gone,” because any good-minded music listener will surely say the struggles are worth it when we get amazing projects like this.
- Best tracks: “Death & Life,” “The Being Gone,” “If I Told You,” “Instant Coffee Blues (w/ Jack Ingram),” “Oklahoma Stars”
- Worst track: “Everybody’s Moving Slow”