Sonic Reducer: Kristina Jacobsen

August March
3 min read
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Kristina Jacobsen, an assistant professor of Music and Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, also has a career as a singer-songwriter. Her oeuvre, informed by a world of global music—all deeply considered and then seemingly wrapped up quietly but with profound sentimentality in her spacious and intimate songs—includes sonic touches of American honky tonk and folk music.

But it’s Jacobsen’s voice that shines on her latest album,
Shelter. Released early in 2019, the album explores the personal with an effusive sensibility that makes listening a ritual in reaching out.

Although much of the material on this album qualifies as confessional, the delivery and the surrounding musical environment that Jacobsen presents listeners with is compellingly luxurious.

Track 3, “Running on Empty” describes a world-weary life, but one where expectation has not dimmed, but rather been balanced by reflection. “I’m going to hike up to those foothills, I’m going to bake me a cardamon coffee cake and then curl up on that couch,” the singer informs us in a plaintive and searching tone before concluding that she will “refuse to give even one more ounce.”

In fact, the whole album can be seen as a meditation, and as a meditative collection of songs with a confessional bent that keeps the lyrics honest and the music flowing around that simple structure like a clear river of water that is bound to end up somewhere wide and open and free—but only after due consideration and some melodic stretching.

The next track seems to confirm that sort of outward and watery directionality. On “I Don’t Wanna Smile,” Jacobsen takes control of the full range and functionality of her honky tonk toolkit and practically belts out a slow burner whose crux comes from a set of self-realizations emanating from a particular social situation.

I know, that’s dang complicated for country music—Jacobsen is an expert postmodernist, deconstructing and reassembling the genre with apparent glee—but it works here because Jacobsen has a intense vocal presence in addition to chops and a historical perspective that is absolutely heart-shaking.

Track 7, “In This Body,” seems to roll off of the guitar while a story rambles out in close fashion. Behind the longingly precise picking and well ahead of any sort of artifice, here is an awkardly told tale that gains confidence and gentle grandeur as it proceeds, a microcosm of an entire work that is never whimsical, filled with detail and about as sad and funny as any life on the planet could possibly be.

That sense of a glum but righteous reality blanketed in light, soaked in music and left for observers and even the artist to repeatedly consider as a set of sublime experiences—sometimes simple, other times very complex—lends this album an expanse of listenability that is ultimately affiliative. When Jacobsen finishes with “Fyrtrnet (Lighthouse),” a song sung in Danish about a lighthouse, it becomes clear that like the music on
Shelter, the light in all of us is kindled within and then shines outward for all the world to see.
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