Everything about this album is retro: The sound, the packaging (which purposely evokes a mid-’60s Columbia-label design), the length (nine songs, 39 minutes)—and from the sound of things, the soul of the singer. From Saint Louis, Missouri, Jackson Stokes is the first artist signed to Devon Allman’s Create label, and his album even opens with a lyrical Allman Brothers reference: “I’m going to Georgia, I’m gonna eat a peach for peace.” As an artist Stokes finds the sweet spot between vintage soul and Southern rock, writing songs that would have gone down a storm in the ’70s and sound refreshing now.
As producer, Allman goes for throwback sounds like a Rhodes piano on the opening track, acoustic leads here and there, and a few bits of Allman-esque slide guitar. This gives Stokes a comfortable space to emote in; his vocals are gruff and soulful without being forced. Writing all but one song, Stokes comes up with a few good hooks and fresh spins on romantic topics; his youth only shows on the closing ballad, “Take Me Home,” which pulls a few overused rhymes (sleep/deep, home/roam). And he does a good but unnecessary cover of Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” (which doesn’t update anything, including the references to the long-defunct Mudd Club and CBGB). The two best tracks are the ones that pull some surprises: “Time is Now” shakes up the retro-soul formula by throwing in some Cars-style synthesizer; its new-wave strut accents the optimism of the lyrics. The edgiest of his relationship songs, “You and Your Partner” begins as a Bill Withers-style confessional and releases tension with a big guitar solo. It suggests that the trickier his life gets, the more interesting his songs are going to be.