Most nights you'll find Jon Jackson singing to children in the intensive care pediatric section of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
"Some hospitals have a team nursing approach, but Vanderbilt doesn't," the registered nurse and songwriter said by telephone. "I'm responsible for at least two patients during my 12-hour shifts.
"I liked when I was working with adult patients, but my working with children makes it so much easier to go to work. I leave the hospital every day feeling like it was a privilege for me to be helping those kids."
Mr. Jackson, 26, doesn't sing any of his own songs off his independent CD, Green Apples, to the children.
Maybe that's just as well, because most of his songs are brutally honest reflections of his experiences; sometimes disturbing, sometimes filled with anger but also often witty and funny.
He writes of Papaw McClung, the maternal grandfather he never knew, who came back from a war emotionally changed and died when Mr. Jackson's mother was 14.
Paradox is about being different: "I'm always alone in the middle of a crowd, and I'm like an agnostic who has had a few doubts. I'm a walking contradiction, and that's all right with me, until it's not."
In A Good Place to Start , he pours out his sorrow over a girl's death a few days after her birth, and about the baby's mother, who was a junkie.
It can be found at www.vimeo.com/4180404, along with a creative stop-action video that Mr. Jackson filmed in his double-wide trailer, taking more than 1,700 photos that, put together, show sunflowers growing on a wall. It goes with a ballad called Untitled that Mr. Jackson wrote about a one-sided romance at a Waffle House that never really developed.
He knows about drug addiction firsthand, having survived some wild teen years.
"I just started with alcohol at a young age and quickly progressed with the intention of staying messed up every week in some fashion," he said. "I did that from 13 to 18 almost daily, whether it was marijuana or pills or liquor or whatever I could get my hands on."
It took an intervention of his drinking buddies to make him realize how badly messed up he really was, which led to 17 days as a patient in a Nashville drug rehabilitation and psychiatric center. Today, he drinks nothing stronger than a cup of coffee.
Mr. Jackson has one of those voices like John Prine or early Bob Dylan or Neil Young that you like or hate very much.
"I tell people that my music may not be for everybody but you still might like it," he remarked. "I absolutely do realize it's like a niche thing and that I'm not going to be played on the radio. But I still do think there is an audience out there for it."
He said the CD, which cost him about a half-year's pay, was mentally cleansing.
"I got a lot off my chest making it," he said. "I can't pinpoint exactly when it happened, but I know that I woke up one day and realized my life is pretty damn good."
Don Rhodes has written about country music for 38 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at email@example.com.