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‘One For Jackie’ Review: Rett Madison Turns Private Tragedy Into Universal Catharsis
Photo: Mikayla Miller/Warner Music
In Depth

‘One For Jackie’ Review: Rett Madison Turns Private Tragedy Into Universal Catharsis

On her second album, ‘One For Jackie’, Rett Madison grieves her mother’s death by suicide, shining a light for those living in darkness.

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Rare is the artist that truly flies without a safety net. Think Bob Dylan, Blood On The Tracks; Joni Mitchell, Blue; or Rumours-era Stevie Nicks. For her second album, One For Jackie, Rett Madison looks to such landmark records such as these and uses them as touchstones for her own soul-baring songwriting. But whereas those works can regularly be found in lists of the best breakup albums, One For Jackie is an altogether different beast. Yes, it deals with loss, but loss of the unbearable sort that it has taken Madison four years to be able to address in her art, and which will remain with her for a lifetime more.

Yet with her own music as a salve, Madison has found her way through the darkness while also giving listeners a roadmap for their own grief. As she sings on closing track Kiki, her voice twining with that of guest vocalist Iron & Wine, “You’ve been stronger than you realise.” In reckoning with her mother’s death by suicide – and a subsequent chain of events including the discovery of abuse and its impact on her mother’s struggles with addiction and mental-health issues – Madison delivers strength in spades.

Listen to ‘One For Jackie’ here.

“Learning my mom was a survivor after her death changed things”

From opener Jacqueline, named after her mother, Madison sets out the album’s stall: “I’m just pissed off/Bitter/I couldn’t save my mother,” she sings with arresting frankness, cushioned by supporting vocals that float in as if from the ether. And it’s the liminal spaces that One For Jackie occupies so confidently, whether Madison is channelling her mother’s spirit on Kiki (“’Cause I hear you talk to me/When you think you’re on your own/But you’re not alone”), pulling up the roots of inherited trauma on Death Don’t Make A Bitch An Angel (“Can we save ourselves from each other?/Mother like father like daughter”) or, in One For Jackie, One For Crystal – a revenge fantasy that plays like an out-of-body-experience – imagining killing the man who, Madison found out after her mother’s funeral, had abused Jacqueline as a child (“I don’t got the proof to put him in a prison/But I can shoot, I can kill him”). “Learning my mom was a survivor after her death changed things,” Madison has said. “I wished I could’ve protected her.”

Just as it flits between reality and fantasy, between the physical world and the spirit world, and between grief and hope, One For Jackie is, in the hands of Madison and a studio team that includes producer and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Chester (Jackson Browne, Blake Mills, Christina Aguilera), a shape-shifting album on which each song assumes its own distinct form.

On How It All Began, Madison introduces the story of her mother’s fall into addiction over gospel organ that hints at the singer’s roots in the church – a community she has since left, but not without taking her own deeply personal spirituality with her. Elsewhere, on St Luke’s, brooding piano, ominous clangs and haunting vocals soundtrack a what-if encounter with her mother’s abuser (“He’s named after a saint, but yet he pins the blame on a kid too young to know what to do”), while perhaps the album’s most modern touch – a sparse drum machine pattern and looping bassline that makes for an almost Gorillaz-like groove – is reserved for Lipstick, a song in which Madison marvels at an unexpected romance blossoming when she needed it most (“Two months after you had gone/I couldn’t believe that’s when I finally met someone”) while lamenting a lack of the same in Jacqueline’s life (“Now that I’m falling in love/I can only think of how you weren’t treated right”).

“I want these songs to find people who have been in this situation and need to be reminded that it’s not their fault”

While communing with her mother in song, Madison also sought another way of connecting, via a medium. What may have started as a frivolous endeavour (“Sat with a psychic/Just for fun,” she sings on Fortune Teller) came to have deeper repercussions, as explored in Mediums, Therapists, And Sheriffs, in which encounters with different sorts of authority figures lead Madison to the knowledge that her mother was wearing leopard print on the day she died. The revelation belatedly clarifies the material’s significance in an earlier song, Flea Market, while also enriching our understanding of an artist who is determined to reach through the scrim that separates the known from the unknown.

Like grief itself, One For Jackie is not linear; but after raking over circuitous emotional terrain, Madison has turned up a deeply personal work that has universal resonance. “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,” she says of the album. “I was heartbroken, guilt-ridden, but I was also angry, and that rage comes through on this album, too.”

There is also love on One For Jackie. It runs like a thread throughout, binding Madison to her mother, to her partner and to the life she is living. It’s a bundle that cannot be easily unpacked – and nor should it. As Madison acknowledges in her songs, life is messy but it is precious. Light can shine unexpectedly in the darkness. Contradictions, no matter how extreme, can be held.

Madison has shouldered her burdens. That she has chosen to share them on an album such as this is a gift to be thankful for.

Looking for more? Check out the best albums of 2023.

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