It started out as one song per month; twelve new singles that Jackson Emmer wanted to release during the year. Then his wife suggested doing 22. “All the best ideas come from Olivia [Emmer’s wife],” he observed to The Sopris Sun. And so, the 22 singles in 2022 project was born.
Singer-songwriter Emmer has been a staple of the Valley’s music scene for years. His voice, characterized in his website biography as “lush with overtones, ghostly harmonics and friendly grit” is the result of him losing it completely at age 28 and having to relearn how to sing — a story for another day. Performing either solo, accompanied by his guitar, or with talented backing musicians, he has graced countless area venues including Steve’s Guitars, the Mountain Fair stage (in 2019 and 2021) and Dan Sadowsky’s house concerts at the Missouri Heights Schoolhouse.
In addition, he has toured extensively around the country. His songwriting, as described on his website, “blends humor with heartache and tradition with exploration … [and] often [has been] compared to that of John Prine and Guy Clark.” It has attracted widespread attention including awards at the Telluride Troubadour Contest, Folks Festival Songwriter Showcase in Lyons and Songwriter Serenade in Moravia, Texas.
Emmer explained that he has written “plenty” of songs recently. “I have these songs I want to put out in the world but they don’t have to gel together.” He also has been thinking about his and Olivia’s nine-month-old daughter, Dylan. “What kind of music will I leave in the world for her?” He continued, “Now that I know how precious time is, I try to make the most of it.”
One of the unexpected and fortuitous consequences of having to stay at home so much during the COVID pandemic has been Emmer’s online collaboration with legendary singer-songwriter Tom Paxton. Emmer first encountered Paxton when Paxton was a panelist at a folk music conference Emmer attended. Later, a friend of Paxton’s (who lives in Carbondale) heard Emmer at Steve’s Guitars and said she would bring Paxton to hear Emmer play sometime.
Although Emmer was a bit skeptical, she and Paxton did indeed attend a gig in Glenwood Springs. Emmer noted that Paxton did not remember him from the earlier event, but this time he made a stronger impression, and the connection was made. Paxton has said that Emmer is “firmly on the right track – do not fail to hear this man!”
The two have been collaborating for a year or so. “We try to write a song every Friday, unless one of us has something else on,” Emmer said. The results have been fruitful. So far they have written more than 30 songs together including a few being released among the 22.
As for those 22, “All have been written; now it’s more about recording them.” Emmer is producing most of them himself, each taking considerable time. He noted that five have been recorded, mixed and “staged for release,” and that “eight more will be done by the end” of February. However, when he’s feeling stretched, he has turned to his friend, noted producer and musician Jon Estes in Nashville to help complete tracks.
Each of the 22 singles are being released roughly every two to four weeks and will be distributed on all streaming services. The first one, “Colorado Line” dropped on Jan. 14, and the second, “I Love You Now, I Loved You Then” comes out on Feb. 11. A third, the dryly humorous “Can’t Take It with You” (March 11) was co-written with Paxton.
The first four releases feature original illustrations by Austin, Texas based artist Chris Kelly and are intended to evoke the songs’ themes. Singles five through eight will include photographs of Emmer as a child. The fifth, “Kids on Crescent Drive” (April 8) is a remake of a solo video performance he released on YouTube last June.
Those interested in seeing Emmer live in the near future need go no farther than Steve’s Guitars on Monday, March 7, when he, Natalie Spears and Ken Gentry will do a tribute concert for what would have been Townes Van Zandt’s 78th birthday. In-person tickets are available at www.bit.ly/jacksonemmer It will also be live streamed for free.
In addition, Emmer is looking forward to a songwriting retreat that he and Paxton will lead at Four Mile Creek B&B near Glenwood Springs on July 8-10. The retreat will culminate with a concert by the two of them. Details on the retreat can be found at www.bit.ly/emmerandpaxton1
Emmer is planning a tour ranging from Texas to Pennsylvania to California, between mid-March and early May. Reflecting on his time as a professional musician, he mused, “There are many self-destructive narratives you could follow, but I’m not one of them.” He added, “People can make a life as a musician, it’s still doable.
Illustration by Larry Day