I first heard Kara Jackson’s new EP, A Song for Every Chamber of the Heart, when it was released last week, but I didn’t completely understand it until I saw her open for Kaina’s record release show at Lincoln Hall over the weekend. The EP is minimal, featuring only Jackson and her guitar. Her lyrics are similarly minimal, but that quality is part of what creates the force of their impact. On “Ray”, she deadpans, “Ray / got a tattoo of a stranger’s name / got a homeboy said he did the same thing / got no shame”. Jackson gives us only a few details, but the details we get nevertheless reveal a full and distinct image.
It’s no surprise that Jackson’s lyrics are great. She came up in Young Chicago Authors and is Chicago’s Youth Poet Laureate for 2018 – 2019. This past April, she was named the National Youth Poet Laureate. But, when I saw her perform, I realized that the true star of A Song for Every Chamber of the Heart is Jackson’s voice. Her deep, powerful vocals resonated in my chest and that power did not prevent her from running through scales with skillful ease as embellishment. Her performance had the audience immersed, an impressive feat given that she performed alone and followed the high energy of Luna Luna. It also gave me a new perspective on Jackson. She’s not just a great poet that set her poetry to guitar chords, she’s also an impressive jazz musician independent of the words she sings. There’s no better evidence of her musical skill than the fact that she ended her set with a cover of “I Will Survive” and managed to imbue it with new meaning and tone without changing any lyrics. When I returned to her EP, I realized that minimalism also figures into her use of traditional jazz harmony, which allows her vocal performance to shine and feel reminiscent of the work of more established vocalists like Gretchen Parlato.
It’s also fitting that A Song for Every Chamber of the Heart was recorded and mixed by Tasha because it has the same endearingly soft quality that made Alone at Last a standout of 2018. I’m excited that Kara Jackson has begun to blur the line between poet and vocalist and look forward to hearing more.