Cosmic American rock group Jake Dunn and the Blackbirds have followed up their first two albums with an exciting new release, Sad Songs (2021), that is much more hard-hitting and uplifting than the title suggests.
The band hails from the Mid-Ohio Valley, bringing an eclectic mix of sounds to their songs, breaking down genre barriers and forging their own path in the process. The album covers a broad spectrum of emotions, from their smooth and laid back “Eirene” to the upbeat “No Game to Play.”
As is clear in all three of their albums, The Blackbirds feature a slew of highly talented musicians that support Dunn in a way that is complementary but not overpowering. Throughout the pandemic, this group was able to keep up their chops with gigs at The Rambling House in Columbus, Ohio, and they have been itching to bring new music to even more enthusiastic audiences. With Sad Songs, Jake Dunn and the Blackbirds can finally release some built-up demons with their more rock-tinged collection of new tunes.
The opening track “Some of These Nights” begins unconventionally, with sounds and spoken-word lines, one of them being “There are times that are difficult and challenging.” It is almost as though Dunn is prefacing the album as a therapeutic experience both for his listeners and himself. Once the distorted guitar lick comes in, the familiar Jake Dunn and the Blackbirds sound that blends Americana and rock, takes off.
“Drawing Dead” follows as a more upbeat rock tune that incorporates some blues influences. The slide guitar that enters sweetly throughout the album is a way of Dunn remaining true to his Americana side even when the song is heavy and bar-chord ridden. The track takes off halfway through the song with a guitar solo that has a thick and rich tone that nicely overlays the tight chords in the background.
The third song on this album is the title track, “Sad Songs,” which showcases Dunn digging deep to deliver his vocals in a way that demonstrates tangible inner pain. Dunn describes that the album as a whole is about “freedom” in every sense, and this song exhibits Dunn letting go of all restraint to sing lyrics like “I just wanna make sad songs, I just wanna make you cry.”
Dunn also uses Sad Songs to showcase his band’s talents, especially in the final song “Talk About It.” This ten-minute track does not conform to the conventional song format, and is much more jam oriented, giving the entire band an opportunity to really let loose. A major highlight of this song is the outro guitar solo, as the band builds to a cosmic climax together, showcasing their camaraderie and musicianship. The slide guitar makes a brief appearance once again at the end of the song, bringing the album full circle with Dunn acknowledging his deep Americana roots.
There is more to come from Jake Dunn and the Blackbirds, and we asked Dunn some questions to get the inside scoop on the new album and much more.
You describe Jake Dunn and the Blackbirds’ music as “cosmic American music.” Can you elaborate on what this means to you?
It’s a reference to Gram Parsons’ music and the general idea that he had behind it. I love all types of music and want to create all types of music, so calling The Blackbirds “country” or “Americana” or even “rock and roll” isn’t necessarily accurate. I’d like to think we have songs that you can either dance or cry to. These days more than ever it seems like there is division in everything you do. So, the idea of bringing some of the sounds of the past to help communicate the issues of today is very important to me. It is equally important to continue to grow and look for something new and even more “universal” with our music, as well. The very first and most crucial thing I want to do with these songs, after finding my own peace of mind, is bring folks together.
In all three of your albums, it is clear that you have assembled a great group of musicians to fill the role of the “Blackbirds.” What was your process for choosing these specific individuals to play in your band?
There really wasn’t any process to it at all, to be completely candid. I don’t like to dwell on things so important like that. Instead, I prefer to follow my gut so my head doesn’t get in the way and just let the good Lord guide me. I’ve known and trusted Bobby (our bassist) since we were boys and I stumbled into the presence of Chuck and Jesse (our lead guitarist and drummer, respectively) at a local open mic in Marietta, OH, in 2015. I knew immediately who to ask to join me in this journey when I decided to go on it and have had no regrets since the start.
How does the songwriting process work within the band? And is it a more structured routine, or more when inspiration hits?
I primarily bring the songs to the table but we all communicate about what is best for the song before it’s all said and done. I mostly just try to write as much as I can and as often as I can. It’s just practice and I’m perfectly fine with throwing the majority of the bad ones away instead of insisting that every note that gets written is a banger. If I can get 1 good song out of every 10 that I write, then all I need to do is write 100 songs and I’ve got a record. Plus, I end up with 90 bits and pieces of other songs that I can come back to or pull from down the road.
In your description of Sad Songs, you write that this album is very much rooted in the idea of freedom. How did you arrive at this theme? What were some important sources of inspiration?
Freedom is such a broad term for the individual and can mean a lot of different things depending upon who you ask. I am just so tired of dogma and semantics being so crucial in every aspect of our lives these days, especially in music. It seems to me that if you call yourself something then people expect you to be only that. I think I wanted to be a cowboy when I really don’t want to be anything and even if I did want to be something then why is it so crucial for the whole world to know? If I want to fall in the forest, I don’t care if I make a sound. I just want to enjoy the fall. Musically, Sad Songs is a record that says a lot of things but for me, personally, it is a step away from being too “rock and roll” or not “country” enough and a step closer to my own self-satisfaction. I just want to be just what I am.
How do you go about picking singles, and how important to you is the order of the songs on the album?
Choosing the singles is mostly just a group discussion about which 2 or 3 are our favorites, as well as which ones we think best describe the whole record. Track listing is very important to me, however, especially for Sad Songs. I spent more time on it than our previous records deciding how these songs should flow into one another. I’ve always had the mindset that some songs help others become even better when butted up next to one another. This new record really waxes and wanes with many highs and lows.
What feelings or messages do you hope listeners take away from this record?
I am always hoping to unify folks with our music, but Sad Songs is somewhat about being mindful and true to yourself, as well. It’s about trying to find out who you are and what you are for yourself and no one else. If I could teach people anything, after showing them to love and care for another, it would be to become themselves for themselves. Exist to help others, but live for yourself.
Can fans expect to see the band on the road this year, or at least playing regional gigs?
We are playing all over these days, almost the same as the times before the pandemic. We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to play many outdoor shows, which has made the transition back into it easier on our minds. We will be all over Mid-Ohio Valley, as always, and then some as the year moves on, though.
Where do you hope to see Jake Dunn and the Blackbirds in 5-10 years? What are some of your long-term goals?
We are shooting for the top, but we’re almost invincible with our goals because we just don’t care how far down the road we land. I think in our minds, just by sticking together for so long and making the records that we’ve made, we have already accomplished so many of our goals. In 5-10 years I just want my soul to still be intact, with these same guys in whatever arena, dining hall or hole in the wall that will have us.