You wouldn’t necessarily know it from listening to his full-length studio debut, Death of a Hummingbird, but Fort Worth singer-songwriter Jack Barksdale isn’t old enough to legally drive.
Sure, the 14-year-old Barksdale’s voice has a distinctly youthful tinge, but the lyrics convey a wisdom belying the singer’s physical age: “The streets and the cities have forever changed/The children have grown up and forgotten their names/It appears we’re lost/In a world full of nothing,” he sings on the striking, blues-tinged “World Full of Nothing.”
Given Barksdale’s penchant for braiding poetic lyrics and disarming melodies, it comes as absolutely no surprise that he cites Leonard Cohen as a significant influence, even if Barksdale’s own worldview — and, yes, his sweet tenor — is far afield from Cohen’s sardonic, rumbling style.
“He wrote how and what he wanted, whether people accepted it or not,” Barksdale said via email. “He was persistent and eventually, more and more people accepted him. He didn’t pander to anyone and he didn’t look for fame.”
Such insight coupled with his musical prowess marks Barksdale as a formidable talent — not for nothing does his list of Hummingbird songwriting partners include heavy hitters like Jeff Plankenhorn, Keegan McInroe and Guthrie Kennard.
Barksdale will take center stage Friday at the Kessler Theater, when he headlines a performance (Verlon Thompson and Max Gomez will open) celebrating Hummingbird’s landing.
“I don’t have a particular style that I religiously stick to,” Barksdale said via email. “I just like to make music that I think sounds good and write what I enjoy writing. Since my taste is always changing and expanding, that means my inspirations and my music are always changing and expanding as well.”
Fittingly, Death of a Hummingbird flits between a variety of genres — the broad umbrella of Americana, but also flashes of country, blues and jazz — and takes care to showcase not only Barksdale’s acumen as a singer-songwriter, but as a performer: the record is bookended by a pair of vivid instrumentals (“Revival Song No. 3” and “Bugle Boy Blues,” the latter billed as a tribute to the La Grange listening room of the same name).
Recorded over three days last August at producer Mike Meadows’ invitation-only 3Sirens studio in Nashville, Hummingbird is an extraordinarily assured effort, following on the heels of his 2018 EP Manifesto and his 2019 live album, Jack Barksdale: Live from Niles City. Then again, confidence is a given when we’re talking about a musician who, at the age of 9, showcased the first tune he ever wrote in front of a Luckenbach song circle.
The beauty of Barksdale’s career, apart from beginning at such a young age, is that he’s bound only by the limits of his imagination. There’s no telling what he’ll do next, or who he might draft to help him realize his vision — “This is a very pie-in-sky idea, but I would love to collaborate with Leon Bridges,” he said via email — but rest assured, Jack Barksdale has only begun to soar.