There’s a playfulness to the best old country songwriting, a kind of delight in turning a phrase, in surprising a listener. It’s a trick that Colorado Americana songwriter Jackson Emmer learned early on playing noisy bars in Aspen. Inspired equally by Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt, Emmer weaves the kind of bittersweet, barroom ballads that Nashville songwriters used to fight over in the 70s. And if he understands the subtle humor of this old style of songwriting, it’s because he’s truly a student of American roots music. Emmer cut his teeth early on with Sam Moss, known for his American primitive guitar work, in the Appalachian old-time duo The Howling Kettles, and he’s studied everything from Guy Clark to Bob Wills. “In mainstream country today,” Emmer explains, “you stretch a sad feeling out for a whole song in a Disneyland kind of way. Classic country had these stories that pivot on small moments and little details. It comes out of nowhere. You think something’s going to go down smooth, but then there’s a sudden right hook.” On his new album, Jukebox, Emmer spins tales of love gone wrong around quick surprises and sucker punches, dancing like Roger Miller and stinging like John Prine. His voice has a bit of gravel in it, like a refurbished bar that still has a hint of cigarette smoke from years past, and his guitar shifts between electric chicken pickin’ and John Hurt fingerstyle. There’s an ease to Emmer’s music that comes from the joy he feels playing and writing great songs, and this ease draws the listener in, allowing them to see themselves in his songs.