From Gram Parsons to Pure Prairie League, Jackson Browne to any number of artists who fall under the Americana umbrella, The Caroliners’ Mark Jackson credits many for their own band’s alt-country, folk, blues and rock influences. However, as far as songwriting goes, nothing compares to Motown greats like The Temptations and The Jackson 5.
“[They] are the best love songs,” the singer-songwriter says. Jackson recently played one of his own, “Blue Ridge Beauty,” live on The Penguin on October 31 with guitarist Matt Rushin. “‘Blue Ridge Beauty’ is about a girl!” he admits, whom he sings has “long brown hair and dark brown eyes.”
And she ran off to the city with the narrator’s heart in tow.
“I did spend a lot of my younger years in Asheville, NC,” Jackson continues, “so I’m very familiar with the Blue Ridge Mountains and how beautiful they are. In this case the mountains are symbolic for a really good-looking gal.”
Jackson, who plays acoustic guitar, met Rushin at UNCW in 2013. They eventually started jamming together. Even when Jackson left Wilmington to finish his last couple of years at App State, he and Rushin stayed in touch.
“Eventually, I made the decision I wanted to make music for a living,” he explains, “so I packed up my guitars and headed back down to Wilmington to start up The Caroliners with Matt. We’ve been writing songs and adding various members to the group since.”
The Caroliners officially assembled in summer 2018. They frequently switch back and forth from being an acoustic duo (Jackson and Rushin) to a full band, which includes Sean Potter (drums, percussion) and Conrad Junior (bass). “I’m also more than happy to come out and perform solo if folks are listening,” Jackson quips.
Jackson and Rushin plan to represent The Caroliners as a duo this weekend at Bottega’s Common Ground’s Art and Music Showcase on Saturday.
Established as a “socially conscious creative collaborative,” Common Ground will host more than a dozen vendors, local artists and craftsmen, including Faith’s Feel Good Art, Lila Apparel, The Girl with Kaleidoscope Dyes, and others. As well, there will be live painting by artists Meraki Orenda and Doug Levy. The Caroliners round out the day’s music lineup with Ezra Wool, DJ Illiad and Phyphr.
“We’re honored and excited to be playing,” Jackson says with excitement. “I’m sure we’ll see some fantastic artists. We always have fun at Bottega, so we’re ready to groove. We’ll be playing a mixture of songs we wrote ourselves, with some fun covers we’re sure folks will enjoy.”
While folks will get to hear current originals, like “Blue Ridge Beauty” and “Handcuffed,” indicative of their folk and Appalachian-inspired sounds, Jackson and company love sharing reimagined versions of their favorites. Motown’s “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by Four Tops and even Rod Stewart’s early band, the Faces’ “Ooh La La” top the list.
“I’ve learned to continuously incorporate new material and write songs to keep people entertained,” Jackson tells. “Collectively, I think we’ve all gotten better at reading crowds and making sure folks are having a good time. Whether it means extending a solo or just finding a groove people want to dance to, we’re definitely trying to find ways to make our shows more fun for people.”
The Caroliners have songs penned for a forthcoming EP with Hourglass Studios, set for an early 2019 release. They previously worked with Hourglass producer Trent Harrison to release their debut single, “Handcuffed,” in August 2018. It features The Caroliners’ full band, as well as backing vocals by Grace Christian and Victoria Hayes.
While Jackson admits they’ve been perpetually switching out songs and changing the order, they’ve more or less narrowed down their six tracks. “‘Blue Ridge Beauty’ is currently the working title for the EP,” he details, “but we do have a few other ideas we’ve been bouncing around. . . . We decided to only put original tunes on the project. About half of those tunes we’ve played around Wilmington once or twice, but the other half we’ve saved for the EP.”