Kara Jackson
Credit: Lawrence Agyei

Society hasn’t yet adequately grasped the rolling mental-health crisis facing children and young adults whose education and social lives imploded practically overnight at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but preliminary studies indicate that the kids are not, in fact, all right.

When the lockdowns struck, singer-songwriter and former U.S. youth poet laureate Kara Jackson was yanked out of their freshman year at Smith College. On “Bed,” their contribution to a May 2020 Why? Records compilation, they perfectly articulate their generation’s bottled-up anxiety and melancholy: “In my bed / I cry too much / My pillow’s plush is turning to mud,” they sang, in a smoky, soulful contralto abutted by gently lapping guitar chords. 

Jackson recorded the track, along with a trove of other demos, in their childhood bedroom in Oak Park. With the help of Soopernovas Nnamdï, Kaina, and Sen Morimoto, those recordings have been transformed into Jackson’s achingly beautiful, lushly orchestrated full-length debut, Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? “No Fun/Party” pairs crisp couplets with guitar and sleepy strings (performed by Jackson and violinist Macie Stewart, respectively), opening up into a plangent ballad: “I think I’m taken for granted / Every person that I’ve dated / Tells me I’m intimidating / Like a snake that’s busy praying.”

The title track traces grief’s overwhelming arc: Jackson’s desolate vocals-and-guitar intro bloom into a chorus featuring Nnamdï, Kaina, and Morimoto, then soar to redemption. It’s a clear standout, which is saying something given that the album’s 13 songs don’t include a weak link in the bunch. (Its track order could’ve used some finessing, though—it ends, rather unceremoniously, with the minute-long “Liquor.”) Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? sprouted bravely from a specific time and place, but Jackson’s talent is timeless.

Kara Jackson’s Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love? is available through Bandcamp.