Not long after releasing his first album, a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from a tiny North Texas town is drawing national attention.
His sound is hard to pin down. There are strains of folk, country and roots rock. It’s Southern folk or indie folk, perhaps. But listening to any minute of the mysterious songs on his self-titled debut will tell you that Jackson Scribner is an old soul and a great songwriter. And he put down most of them in one take.
Scribner, who lives in Melissa, 40 miles north of Dallas, recorded the album last year with Jeff Ryan, a drummer known for his work with artists including St. Vincent and Daniel Johnston as well as his own critically acclaimed band, Motorcade.
“Those songs were so great and he’s tapping into a depth of talent that he’s just starting to realize,” Ryan said. “These were his first attempts at writing. And we didn’t change them that much. We just accentuated them a little bit with sparse instrumentation.”
Two other seasoned musicians, John Dufilho and Jerome Brock, join Scribner and Ryan on the record, which came out in March on State Fair Records. It was mixed by Grammy winner Stuart Sikes.
“And his timing is impeccable. It’s like playing with someone who has been playing for 20 years, not someone who is 20,” said Ryan.
Scribner has been playing guitar since he was a child, but he only started writing songs two years ago.
American Songwriter took note when he released his first single, “Sixteen,” last year, calling it proof that he was “already an A-list talent.”
“At this point,” the Nashville magazine wrote, “the world just needs to learn about him so they can catch up.”
Roots music quarterly No Depression has praised him as well.
His music shines with a lucidity that could have something to do with his upbringing — in a patch of Collin County outside McKinney with a population of less than 10,000.
“I think living in a place that’s small and where everybody kind of knows everybody did have some influence on the way I write,” he said. “I like to drink coffee and listen to records every morning. I like to go to the library and read books. It’s just the way I’ve always been.”
Ryan discovered him in November 2019 when he saw a video of the young songwriter on Facebook. “I was just blown away by his voice,” said Ryan. He asked Scribner to open a show he was playing with Doug Burr at Twilite Lounge Fort Worth.
“He started playing — and it was a pretty packed room with people chatting — and the room just fell silent.”
He has only played a handful of shows, but he did just fine opening for an established talent, Joshua Ray Walker, at the Kessler Theater in December and says he’ll be playing for Nashville crowds soon. Already, he’s working on his second album and planning a regional tour.
Veterans of the Dallas music scene have noticed his gifts of melody and emotional intensity. And by all accounts, his humility stands out, too: He calls his music “decent campfire songs.”
In truth, he’s a storyteller who seems to find something universal in any subject matter he comes across. “I Don’t Think About It” is based on a conversation he had with a stranger who mentioned his girlfriend’s struggles with bipolar disorder. “Family Gathering” is inspired by Scribner’s large family get-togethers.
Unsurprisingly, his family is a musical one. Scribner’s father, Clint, played in bands that covered country and rockabilly songs. His dad also managed a few groups and owned a venue in Greenville, Stonewall Music Hall, that was once a mortuary. (The part of the building where the hearse used to unload turned out to be convenient for touring acts.) Scribner says he “kind of grew up in the backstage areas” of concerts.
Scribner’s older brother, Levi, is the vocalist for roots rock band the Marfa Lights, and is also at work on his own solo music.
“What you see is what you get with Jackson,” said Scribner’s father. “He’d rather play for a room of three people who are listening than a crowd of 200,000.”