A fast-learning late-bloomer, Grayson Jenkins wrote his first song at 21 and now 7-8 years later is releasing Turning Tides, his third full album. Its writing was completed before the pandemic and recording took place just a few months in but Jenkins decided to hold off on releasing it, leaving him on hold, mentally and career-wise. He considered hanging it up more than once in 2020, but thankfully he did not.
If you’re a first timer like myself, Grayson Jenkins has a warm, reedy voice that welcomes you right in. His bio mentions Eric Church and Keith Whitley as descriptors, but I’m hearing more Bruce Robison. None of those are comparisons he’d turn his nose up at, I’m guessing. The music is much the same - enveloping and hospitable, a chilled out honky-tonk experience.
There’s a lot of what I’d call ‘soothing darkness’ sonically on this record. - a low key, soft approach, that while far from sparse musically, gives Jenkins a lot of room vocally. What he does with that space is croon to us of lonely nights, anxiety, hard work, and glimmers of hope.
The title cut is a main example of that sound of soothing darkness. Lyrically, though, it’s a ray of sun through drawn curtains, seeing hope after a hard time. Though written before these “crazy times,” one wouldn’t be wrong to apply the song to our current state.
“Low Down Lady” is a shuffling bar room toe-tapper that seems custom made for a Texas dancehall. It never gets around to explaining why she’s a “bad low-down lady,” but you know he’s crazy for somebody he ought not be, and it really doesn’t matter with a song this damn fun. Piano, steel, and a guitar solo fill this one out to perfection.
One of the highlights of the album for me, “Picket Fences” was co-written with Nicholas Jamerson (he of much independent country affection and also half the duo Sundy Best). It’s a fiddle-heavy look at the life of a musician compared to that of the average thirty-something. “I’ll take my rambling, keep your picket fence,” sings Jenkins, more than satisfied with the path he picked.
Turning Tides is yet another entry in the seemingly endless parade of excellent albums out of the Bluegrass State. At this point I’m surprised burgeoning musicians don’t move to Kentucky to get a dose of whatever’s in that water. Anyway, this record, it’s a good one and with it, you can still get in relatively early on another artist who’s gonna be a stalwart in the scene for years to come.