Jack Grelle has made his name playing honky-tonk, crooning with a country twang, and ruffling some feathers along the way.

Since 2016, he’s toured all over the United States and Europe, playing his Bakersfield-infused album Got Dressed Up to Be Let Down. Out of all the songs on the record, one has stood out as starting more discussion than any other.

“Changes Never Made” tells the story of the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson in a matter-of-fact way, not dissimilar to the Bob Dylan classic “Hurricane.” Detailing a flashpoint in Missouri’s recent history, Jack admits, has been met with mixed reactions.

He has talked to people all over the world and within his community about what happened in 2014. Then in 2017, he saw his hometown again erupt in protests, this time over the not-guilty verdict handed down to Jason Stockley over the 2011 killing of Anthony Lamar Smith. The second time, though, he found inspiration in trying to convey the elements of the equation, rather than the result.

“I wrote a song to address the underlying issues of what led to what happened in Ferguson,” he says. “Without addressing all of this history, segregation, white flight, private schools, unequal access to resources, we’re not going to get anywhere. I hope that it’s somewhat of a conversation piece.”

The song, “Good Enough for Now,” not only speaks to the mentality that creates such a combustible climate, but it also gave his new album its title: “It’s good enough for now, if not forever. Words left in an old schoolyard. Now there ain’t no sound of children’s laughter, only a sign that reads ‘no one’s allowed.’ ”

On If Not Forever, released earlier this year, Jack is breaking the mold of his last two traditional honky-tonk albums, and the difference is apparent.

Over the course of writing this album, Jack strayed away from listening to just country. Alternatively, he immersed himself in the music of Tom Petty, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Big Star, and power-pop bands, such as The Romantics, The Records, and The dB’s. While the Americana of his past still shines through, his latest influences are apparent.

“Loss of Repetition” kicks off the record with a pop bang, a groovy bassline, and the jangle of a twelve-string guitar. Later on, “Space and Time” burns with the energy of a band just as locked in as CCR at its best. Toward the end of the album, Jack shows his sweet side with a straight-forward love diddy, “To Be That Someone.”

Jack’s collaborators brought their own personalities to the songs to shape If Not Forever. He enlisted some old friends from his time living in Columbia: Devin Frank on bass and guitar, Josh Cochran on guitar, and Patrick Boland on drums. To push the songs even further, he turned to experimental musician and native Columbian Cooper Crain to produce the album.

Lush string arrangements, gentle horn sections, and other accompaniments atypical of country music can be found throughout the album, and it sounds just as fresh as it does classic.

In 2016, Rolling Stone called Jack “a progressive honky-tonk hero arriving at just the right time in Trump’s America.” Today, he’s armed with a new batch of some of his best songs yet, and he’s ready to take on the world—whenever he might have the opportunity.

“Whatever events happen in 2020, cool,” he says. “But I’ve got my sights set on 2021.”

Photo // Nate Burrell