Americana singer-songwriter Jack Barksdale has released his new single, "Trances," and is set to release his first full-length studio album, Death of a Hummingbird, on March 4, 2022. The follow-up to his live album, Jack Barksdale: Live From Niles City (2019), and recorded over three August days in 2021 with producer/percussionist Mike Meadows at the invitation-only 3Sirens studio in East Nashville, Hummingbird finds the 14-year-old songwriter and guitar whiz honing his craft and working with other established artists. Under his ubiquitous red knit cap is a mind already insightful enough to describe the new album as “a chronicle of my continuous search for consciousness.”
He continues: “Death of A Hummingbird ended up being a myriad of concepts, ideas, and arguments that have crossed my mind, and, in some cases, completely devoured it, so the album turns into a constant internal back and forth. For me, it will serve as a time capsule of some of my first attempts to understand the world, as well as myself.”
Throwing around words like “phenom” is easy, but fellow artists – who have heard Barksdale talk about his craft or seen him perform live or listened to his recorded music – have taken note. Singer-songwriter Abe Partridge actually asked Barksdale’s parents, Brent and Clara, at a recent songwriter festival: “When did you know that Jack was brilliant?”
Not only is Barksdale brilliant, but he has won an award grant for his talent. Barksdale became the youngest-ever recipient of the Bugle Boy Foundation’s Talent Trust Award grant. He was 12 when 2012 winner, John Fullbright — whose trust-funded album earned a Grammy nomination — presented the award on February 28, 2020, just before, as Barksdale puts it, “the wheels of time seemingly stopped.”
During that pause, Barksdale developed these 11 tracks, including “Bugle Boy Blues,” his album-closing instrumental homage to the beloved La Grange, Texas listening room. He also opens with an instrumental, “Revival Song No. 3,” whose title relates to his 2018 Revival EP and previous “Revival” versions, inspired by Shooter Jennings’ numbered “Manifesto” songs. If you didn’t know this song’s performer was 14 years old, you might think you’re hearing Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen or a similar legend.
His lyrical prowess, which is stunning if one considers Barksdale’s not-so-advanced age, isn’t surprising if one remembers that he reads Leonard Cohen and poetry for inspiration, with Barksdale coming up with lines like these, in “Unnamed Colors”: She denies the longing/That flows so softly through her veins. Or these, in the trippy, transcendental “Trances”: There’s solitude dripping from the cracks in the walls/Non-existence has never been so righteous/Each time I blink another coward falls /And liberty crawls. Or these, laid over the upbeat, jazz-inflected melody of “Isn’t It Crazy”: Isn’t it crazy that little pieces of paper/Can decide if you’re rich or poor.”
Of that last one, he says, “I had been listening to a lot of bluesy ragtime guitar, ’20s and ’30s stuff like Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller, so I just started playing around with those melodies and all those diminished seventh chords, and as I started playing this melody, I decided to put some lyrics to it. Because I love Americana songwriters like John Prine and Guy Clark, I wanted to give it that kind of spin.” His knowledge of obscure players and the chord structures of 100-year-old musical styles is likely way beyond most players’, much less listeners’. But it’s not about showing off. He’s just citing inspirations and crediting sources. “He really was born an 80-year-old man,” his mom, Clara, says.
Barksdale’s writing has earned him opportunities to collaborate with several renowned folk, blues, and Americana artists, at their request. Through the magic of Zoom and FaceTime, Barksdale co-wrote remotely during the pandemic. “The beauty of music is the connection with others,” he says. “To be able to create together, even from a distance was powerful. I hope that listeners feel that connectivity between us all throughout the album.”
Guthrie Kennard co-wrote “Before the Devil Knows,” a snaky blues track. The contrast between Barksdale’s still-high voice and the swamp-mud dripping off his slide guitar heightens the drama of lyrics that visit Blind Willie Johnson, travel Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad, turn two nails, a bottle and baling wire into a diddley bow, and haunt the most famous intersection in blues history.
Jeff Plankenhorn co-wrote “Sideways,” an uptempo tune Barksdale calls “a light-hearted song about your life slowly deteriorating in front of your eyes. Jeff and I put some fun chords against wacky lyrics and a fast-paced, Waitsian beat, and it turned out really cool.” “Waitsian” refers, of course, to Tom Waits, another inspiration. Townes Van Zandt also looms large, and there’s an occasional hint that Barksdale could one day follow in Willie Nelson’s (and Django Reinhardt’s) Spanish-filigreed direction. Not surprisingly, Barksdale fell early for the Highwaymen — that storied supergroup of Cash, Kristofferson, Jennings, and Nelson.
Barksdale, who started music lessons at 7 and debuted his first composition at a Luckenbach, Texas, picking circle when he was 9 (shocking his parents, who had no idea he had written a song), remains unfazed by the attention and praise. He obviously works hard at his craft and is a quick study; his proficiency on a growing list of instruments beyond the guitar – including mandolin, piano, and ukulele – proves that. His growth seems to be equally fueled by curiosity; he’s always soaking up as much information as possible. Many of his friendships with artists he admires began because he doesn’t think twice about approaching them, introducing himself, and asking questions — intelligent ones that earn respect, not indulgence.
That helped him lure several favorites into picking sessions for his “Guitar Slingers” webcasts, which pivoted into “Jack Barksdale’s Roots Revival” podcast when he couldn’t tape face-to-face. He’s interviewed Guy Clark collaborator Verlon Thompson, Gun N’ Roses/Velvet Revolver drummer Matt Sorum, Dan Navarro (who co-wrote Pat Benatar’s megahit “We Belong”), and H. Jack Williams, with whom Barksdale co-wrote another slide guitar blues song, “World Full of Nothing.” Williams’ surreal resume includes co-writing the Gregg Allman hit, “Just Before the Bullets Fly,” and tracks for Kevin Costner’s Tales from Yellowstone soundtrack companion to the “Yellowstone” TV series.
American Songwriter praised Barksdale's “insights and awareness far beyond people twice his age, and he’s able to put them into songs that touch listeners.” Premier Guitar raved: “He shines with earnest, unjaded passion on a foundation of will and an ability to connect.” Buddy Magazine called him a “musical phenomenon,” NPR dubbed him “special,” and Paper City Magazine described him as a “Texas force.”
Barksdale has performed at South by Southwest, AmericanaFest, the International Folk Alliance conference, the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, and Nashville’s famed Bluebird Café — at the invitation of producer and multi-instrumentalist Will Kimbrough. Hayes Carll invited him onstage at Austin’s songwriter-friendly Saxon Pub. The gig that got away – cancelled by the pandemic – was 2020’s New Orleans Jazz Festival, but he’ll get back there eventually.
Barksdale plans to tour in 2022. He has three shows already on the books (see tour schedule below), with many more shows to come. Fans should check his website and social media for all tour updates.
Jack Barksdale Tour Schedule:
January 21st - Baton Rouge, LA / Red Dragon Listening Room (tickets)
January 22nd - Mobile, AL / The Peoples Room (tickets)
March 4th - Dallas, TX / Kessler Theater (tickets) (album release show)