Jacob Jaeger’s voice doesn’t lie. The tall Texas songman prides his singing on being undisguised. That’s not to say it’s primitive — his handsome tenor graces two octaves with precision and he’s prone to put a little jazz on the melody, but he does so au naturel: no effect, no phoniness, nothing to render it untrue or allow you to doubt the subtle conviction in which he sings about love, regret, or the enchantment a place — not anymore than you would doubt the credibility of a birdsong.
Combining that unfiltered essence with increasingly dense song craft, Jaeger has forged a remarkable solo release that’s uniquely complex yet accessible, ancestral yet modern. Recorded in his home turf of Austin with A-list engineer Grant Johnson on the controls and a light-on-their-feet backing band of bassist Kristopher Wade, drummer James Gwyn, steel guitarist Sam Kossler, and pianist Micah Motenko, the 11-track Blanca Flor, out Sept. 11, sparks with the atypical interplay of Jaeger’s fingerpicked nylon-string guitar and Kossler’s pedal steel. With that musical palette Jaeger’s found space to create songs that are more inviting and connected that what’s come before — the kind that feel like the artist is singing directly into your ear.
“I feel that it truly represents me more than my other records, like I’ve come into myself,” says the Houston-raised Jaeger, who began singing in church as a youngster, before being corrupted by high school metal bands, and eventually falling deep into Austin’s country, folk, and swing scenes. “The direction I’ve gone is to embody everything that I like… which is music.”
As such, Blanca Flor arrives stylistically panoramic. The arresting title track finds Jaeger singing en Espanol with plaintive intensity. With the folky “Willow Colorado,” he’s pulling you outside, among the fireflies, to tell you about the shape he’s in, while “Mockingbird” feels like a lost page from the American Songbook and “Agony” burns highway-hardened roots rock. Meanwhile, “This Breaking” and “Spin” highlights a strain of jazz-informed Americana.
“My love for jazz is a big part of it,” he acknowledges. “I definitely utilize the form on which it was created — the openness to melody and rhythm.”
A workhorse in the live music sweatshop of Austin, Jaeger performs six nights a week in the Texas capital’s vaunted honky-tonks and showrooms: singing, playing guitar, or perched behind a drum kit in swing, cajun, country, or songwriter acts. Is it tragic to see an obvious leading man relegated to rhythm in music’s ultimate supporting role? No — for Jaeger, that step in the journey represents the development of a well-rounded craft.
You can’t simply strap on a guitar and be a “songwriter” — no more than you could pick up a scalpel and be a surgeon. If a sound cannot touch your soul, it is not music. If words don’t pierce through this veil of sameness, they are not lyrics. It’s the exchange feeling that is vital. With Blanca Flor, Jacob Jaeger goes from being a good songwriter to a great one.
And his strengths as a front-and-center troubadour are what portends this to be Jaeger’s moment. It’s a vocation long burgeoning via previous outfit Ghosts Along the Brazos and his 2015 solo debut, Wineskin, but now fully blossoms with a collection equally reminiscent of Bill Callahan’s laconic art bard aesthetics as it is Townes Van Zandt’s acoustic introspection.” – Kevin Curtin