Rett Madison’s new album, One for Jackie, pays tribute to her mom, who passed by suicide in 2019, leaving her only child with an unbearable sense of responsibility to understand her mother better as she mourned her. “My mom struggled with depression, PTSD, and alcoholism all my life, but her death was shocking and unexpected,” Madison says. “Writing this album, I was moving through grief; it was part of my healing process.”
Over 12 songs, Madison distills the weeks and months following her mother’s death, drawing inspiration from the storytelling she admires in Appalachian folks traditions of her home state, West Virginia, the ‘70s output of Bob Dylan and Dusty Springfield, as well as the music her mother raised her on. Beyond borrowing from the past, One for Jackie cements itself as a modern American classic, for fans of acts like Angel Olsen, Phoebe Bridgers, and Brandi Carlile. While Madison describes her debut, Pin-Up Daddy, as a collection of songs she’d sporadically written between the ages of 19 and 21, without a single underlying narrative tying the tracks together, One for Jackie is a story best heard front to back, preferably played loud. Recorded in Tornillo, TX at the storied Sonic Ranch and produced by the Grammy Award-winning Tyler Chester, One for Jackie further elevates Madison’s dextrous musicianship, while her singular voice commands a room from the outset on opening piano ballad “Jacqueline.” Her lyrics are at once gutting, openhearted, and wry, giving listeners a multifaceted look at the irreducible process of grieving such immense loss.
The collaboration between Madison, Chester, and an assortment of studio musicians creates a seamless vision, as Madison’s already exceptional guitar and piano playing are joined by synths, assorted percussion instruments, strings, organ, mournful slide guitar, and more. The guilt of having lost a parent to suicide, and not being able to prevent that death, haunted Madison. “My lyrics are pretty confessional and straightforward,” she says. “I want these songs to find people who have been in this situation and need to be reminded that it’s not their fault, and it’s normal to have conflicting feelings.” Storytelling is a part of Madison’s cultural inheritance, and throughout One for Jackie, she openly takes on the perspective of others, imagining herself into moments she never experienced firsthand. “How it All Began” sounds off to early Springsteen, as Madison envisions Jackie’s young adulthood, while the album’s spare and heartrending acoustic closer, sung by Iron & Wine, finds Jackie speaking directly to her daughter, who she called “Kiki.” One for Jackie gives the listener an uncanny sense of familiarity, as if immersing ourselves in Madison’s grief, in her memories, allows us to know a little bit of Jackie, too. This is a testament to Madison’s lyricism; she is specific, exacting, and wise even in her most unguarded moments. In death, we tend to flatten people, turn them saintly and pure and faultless, but One for Jackie does something better: it brings her to life.