“Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?” (2.5/5): a poet’s album

“Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?”

2.5/5 **-

Poet and singer-songwriter Kara Jackson released her debut album, “Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love?”, on April 14. The album follows a set of singles and extended plays that familiarized listeners with her expressive wordplay and expansive instrumentation. 

While lush, ornate and almost theatrical at points, “Why Does the Earth…” often struggles to stay consistent across its tracklist. Even within the songs themselves, some sections play beautifully, while others are jagged and unrefined. The intro “recognized”—a sharp commentary on fame culture—and the amorphous “no fun/party” establish this inconsistency. The absence of steady tempi and the hyper-diverse instrumentation lead to some head-scratching moments. 

However, once committed, Jackson’s poetry and vocals flourish. Her melodies in “dickhead blues” arpeggiate alongside great bass and key patches. The briefer “therapy” embraces her theatricality with some standout lyrics: “Every man thinks I’m his fucking mother.” Even on prior tracks, her singing matches the delivery of poetry, imitating line breaks and enjambment with ease. 

The song “pawnshop” especially reads like a poem, employing a smart parallel between Jackson’s current relationship and pawning off jewelry: while used, she still shines like new. One of my favorite instrumentals is offered here, featuring a mixture of acoustic, electric and slide guitars that propel the track through a traditional song structure. My only complaint is that I wish she had let herself indulge in this song; it could have easily lasted more than its scant three-minute runtime. 

“brain,” while kitsch in its affirmations, stands out as well. Jackson’s lower range blossoms against backing vocals and subtle percussion, swaying along with a steady bass. It’s a heartfelt piece of folk with honest lyrics happening in tandem: “If your fear is what comes first / You’ll run from love you deserve.” 

Indeed, running is what Jackson does on “free,” the most sweeping track here. Across its eight minutes, “free” tells a harrowing story of heartbreak with few lyrics. Underneath a tense serenade plucked out by the guitar, steady bass and percussion build, with notes of brass trickling down as well. You only realize how breathtaking it is once Jackson reaches into the top of her range, proudly riffing, “Can’t you see I’m free?” The album, for better or for worse, peaks here, halfway through its runtime. 

“lily” builds off the harmonic ideas of “free,” another sweet affirmation. It’s much more understated than its predecessor—along with the other grand arrangements this record boasts—but it serves as a breath of fresh air before the following dense songs. 

“rat” displays Jackson’s narrative abilities, painting a troubled figure by the name of Rat who feels the need to keep going. Some of my favorite poetry is sung here: “Centuries of singers, men who pay their rent / Waxing poetic of a woman’s innocence.” At points, I’m reminded of the density of Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira” with “rat”’s storming instrumentals and cathartic bridges. 

However, the meandering which worked to “rat”’s benefit does not necessarily carry over to the title track, “why does the earth give us people to love?”, or to “curtains.” Jackson again delivers some great poetry, highlighting images of burials and philosophies on death, calling back to the first track, “recognize.” There’s an intensity that currents beneath these songs’ feet, one that never truly gets resolved. While possibly intentional, for how theatrical this pair of tracks is, I find it questionable how little seems to be resolved. 

The album ends with two shorter songs, concluding with the one-minute “liquor.” One of the last lines on the album reads, “Can’t buy love, so I bought liquor,” letting the hefty lyrical topics that dotted earlier tracks flow away with a humming outro. It’s a bit of a strange ending, one that matches my sentiment towards this album: although featuring some great performances, there’s a lack of consistency, leaving some of these songs hard to swallow. I think that’s what makes “Why Does the Earth…” special, though. The moments that embrace and fully commit Jackson’s idiosyncrasies enrapture me. 

Highlights: “therapy,” “pawnshop,” “brain,” “free,” “rat”