Here she builds on the success of last year’s The Party Ain’t Over,
her collaboration with Jack White, but unlike that effort, this album is raw, spare and constructed to showcase the Oklahoma-born-and-bred Jackson’s prodigious gifts. Ample credit goes to Justin Townes Earle, who produced this 10-song collection of blues, country, gospel and soul covers.
Things start appropriately with a bluesy swagger in Freddie King’s “Tore Down.” That’s deftly followed by the wry honky-tonk of “The Graveyard Shift,” penned by Earle’s father, Steve Earle.
Jackson’s voice is in strong form throughout, veering from the Kewpie-doll growl of “Pushover” to a seen-it-all joyousness that permeates Townes Van Zant’s gospelfueled “Two Hands.” The record’s finest moments are the most low-key. In “Am I Even a Memory?,” written by alt-country’s Greg Garing, Jackson brings the heartbreak for a gorgeously plaintive weepie.
Perhaps best of all is the closing “California Stars,” in which she takes on a once-forgotten Woody Guthrie composition later given shape by Wilco and Billy Bragg. Jackson’s gritty, earthbound interpretation helps anchor the song’s innately dream vibe.
Sexy, tough and poignant, Unfinished Business proves there is no expiration date for cool. —Phil Bacharach
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