Album Review: Common Jack – Strange New State (NMF Winner Ep 49)

Fans of experimental folk music take note. Common Jack is Brooklyn-based folk rocker John Gardner. His work, along with his band mates, makes for an incredible Americana vibe. Whether it’s raw, gritty Neil Young-esque vocals or a plodding familiar folk rock beat, the whole sound feels like the healing salve we need for America.

The opening track is short and sweet, leading to the expressive and endearing “Fine Line.” The harmonies on this track are delightful and give a light to the bluesy folk song. There’s a strong message of frustration and sadness to it that puts me in mind of the Avett Brothers. As soon as you hear this, you’ll wonder why you haven’t heard or read more of Common Jack. I wonder the same thing.

“She Don’t” is a classic folk song definitely in the Dylan vein. Listen carefully to the lyrics on this because it’s about the kind of woman you want to know about. There’s a cautious love and fire to the interest. If you’ve ever loved a dangerous woman, this song will connect with you.

The track “I Still Think of You” is another totally underrated hit. It’ll have you wondering why this isn’t on the radio. “I saw the news today what a rodeo…” The messages really resonate well and the overall folk rock style is really easy to enjoy. “It feels like it’s burning down.” Yeah, man, exactly. That’s how so many of us feel as well.

“A Little Time” slows things down nicely. It’s a more contemplative song, getting listeners to think about an intriguing character. That’s the thing about how Common Jack songs feel; they are expressive and thoughtful folk music. This is a style that seems to be missing from a lot of music today, but there’s a real semblance of authenticity rather than abstraction and fracture.

There are a few songs on the album that I’m skipping over here, not because they are truly “skip” tracks, but because I have to keep things moving. I’m going to jump to “Forever, Ms. Crowne” which reminds me more of the Beatles than anything else on the album. It seems like it was written with that kind of pop rock vibe in mind. It is, unsurprisingly, about a transformational relationship. It’s a blues song in a pop song’s clothing.

The following “Spanish Bird” has a really interesting feeling to it that goes in a completely different direction from the rest of the album. The vocal has a bit of a Tallest Man on Earth syntax to it, but the song’s overally style is a really wonderful atmospheric sound. The lyrics obviously make reference to Dylan. All put together, it’s a delightful breath of fresh air.

The final track “Old Faded Flag” is the magnum opus for the album. It’s an epic length (over 7 minutes) with complex, engaging lyrics about themes of patriotism, sacrifice, and the lasting legacy of hate crimes. Stylistically the song stays firmly in the folk rock genre, but it really has the gravity of artists mentioned above like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. It’s no hyperbole to include Common Jack in that kind of company. The metaphor of the faded flag works really well, discussing “better times” that came before. It’s an ethos that resonates particularly well for so many in America.

This is a superb album. If you’re a fan of folk rock music, you should take the time to really enjoy the album. You’ll be moved and will definitely enjoy it.

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