The Cavalry, basically a one-man project of actor/musician/vocalist Tristan Jackson, performs in the Nashville Rock vein, that curious 21st century anagram of pop, Southern Rock, and a smattering of classic country sounds that has been the sole instrument-driven genre to hold a commercial line in this brave new world against rap and dance pop. The project’s first release, an EP entitled Build Your Own Empire, demonstrates the respect Jackson commands among his peers, if nothing else. Important contributors help propel the success of this release. The outfit Love & Theft share a songwriting credit with Jackson, The Voice alumni Nolan Neal appears on a track, and another talented young singer Kristie Lane takes a guest turn on one of the EP’s earliest songs. The undisputed star of the show, however, is naturally Tristan Jackson and he quickly proves himself worthy of your money and attention alike. This is admittedly commercial minded music but Jackson’s far from a hack looking to make some coin off a trendy musical genre. Instead, he shows great fluency throughout these songs for taking recognizable elements and straining them through his own personality, talents, and experiences to create something new, yet distinctly his own.
Build Your Own Empire traffics in compressed, simmering building and big choruses intended to get your heart thumping out of your chest. The cinematic quality in these songs is impossible to ignore, but they are likewise geared for a wide audience and not niche entries in any manner. “Don’t Mean You’re Gone” has a number of musical and lyrical turns ripped straight out of country music songwriting fundamentals, but it owes much of its allegiance to the structure of rock and pop music. The success or failure of Jackson’s songwriting rests on his manipulation of dynamics and he does so here and elsewhere with a sure hand and wealth of musicality. The first guest appears on the song “Wake Up Call”. This isn’t a duet; Kristie Lane provides impressive backing vocals in counterpoint to Jackson’s own vocal, but he occupies much of the song without ever, fortunately, diminishing her contribution. This song is much more in a ballad vein than the opener and Jackson’s vocals reveals surprising grit and emotive layers.
Co-written with members of Love & Theft, “When the Radio’s Gone” is one of the EP’s strongest outright commercial songs thanks, once again, to the sharp and coherent contrast between the verses and chorus. This is another of those familiar song subjects and structures that will invite many comparisons for listeners, but ultimately, you won’t be able to lock any down because this retains a veneer of originality many similar efforts do not share. Nolan Neal, successful vocalist on the hit TV show The Voice, appears on the EP’s final track “Red, White and Blue Jeans” and his contributions to the finale help push it over the top as the only logical choice for the slot. The Cavalry’s Build Your Own Empire, by any standard, is a smashing debut that sets the stage for even greater things to come.