The first sounds you hear from Nicholas Jamerson’s new concept album, The Wild Frontier, are the chirps of crickets and birds and a light wind blowing through the trees. Jamerson, in his easy-on-the-ears Prestonsburg drawl, opens the story of Will of the Wild Frontier.
“Sometimes there’s a man who is the man for his time and place.”
This description fits Jamerson just as perfectly as it does Will. Jamerson is in an elite club of mountain artists who are masters at creating a sense of place in their music—not just as a gifted storyteller, but as a thoughtful composer who bends instrumentation spiritually around the emotion behind the stories.
Where his acclaimed 2018 album NJ was a deeply personal exploration of who he’s been and who he’s becoming, The Wild Frontier uses the backdrop of the West to look at the larger picture of what it means to be an adventurer. Themes of loneliness, hope, and compassion for your fellow man permeate the record’s hour-plus runtime. Whether he’s slaying giant beasts on the tense and haunting “Leviathan,” or finding companionship in the title track, you get the sense that Will’s journey is one that’s intimately familiar to Jamerson.
The stories come to life through Jamerson’s predictably strong vocals, but also with the help of his backing band. The Morning Jays are made up of some of the most versatile musicians in the region, including Jordan Allen, Wes and Aaron Smith, and Lawrence Nemenz (and undoubtedly others—I haven’t seen the liner notes yet). Their collaboration and familiarity with each other help make this the best sounding record Jamerson’s made to date. You want fiddle solos? Funky electric guitar? Bluegrass banjo breakdowns? Soaring three-part harmonies? It’s all here.
Those who have followed his career will be thrilled to find Jamerson’s signature playfulness is well represented. “Feather Bed,” has as much fun with laid-off-coal-miners-turned-drug-dealers as humanly possible. And “Brother Rabbit,” well, I’m not sure my words could quite do it justice. Maybe it’s a parable about the perils of getting everything you want. Maybe it’s a story about a fat rabbit. It’s certainly a boot-stomping trip.
Other standout tracks include “Ride,” where the easy groove encourages the protagonist (and listener) to step out into uncertainty, and “Linda James,” a tribute to a Prestonsburg woman who lived her deep faith written by a man who clearly wrestles with his own.
The Wild Frontier will be released on streaming platforms April 20, but you can order your physical copy and stream it early at nicholasjamerson.com.