Excellent rootsy rock debut from draft-dodging songwriter
Elliot Knapp | Seattle, Washington United States | 10/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jesse Winchester isn't a household name, by any means. I hunt down good but lesser-known music as a personal hobby, but many people don't have the time to put toward searching for the good music that didn't get big radio play (like Jesse Winchester). On this, his 1970 debut, Winchester proves that a lack of commercial success doesn't always correspond with poor material; this album is typified by superbly-crafted songs, heartfelt singing, and some really enjoyable playing.
Though Winchester's name isn't well-known, two of his collaborators' are: Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, both of The Band, the flagship band and king of this kind of music back in the early 70's. Winchester was befriended by Robbie Robertson in Canada, where he was living after fleeing the USA to avoid draft into the Vietnam War, which he opposed. Robbie helped Winchester get his music career going (while the Tennessee-born Winchester fed Robertson's obsession with the American South), most especially on this album. Though Robertson lends some of his gnarly, ear-candy lead electric guitar to many of these songs, other than on the co-written "Snow," the songwriting voice is all Winchester.
"Payday," the rocking bluesy opener, kicks the album off with a crash--Robertson's guitar cuts and slices, and Winchester's overdriven vocals really lay out the playfully reckless vibe that the song puts out. This loose, fun attitude returns on a number of other cuts, like the upbeat "That's A Touch I Like" and the tongue-in-cheek innuendo of the album-closing "The Nudge."
There's a far-from-home melancholy feel on many of the songs, perhaps from Winchester's expatriate status; "Biloxi" wistfully recalls the natural beauty and memories of the South. "Yankee Lady" is one of the album's finest cuts, recalling a life-changing love from the past that ended because of the singer's urge to roam, backed with especially appropriate mandolin played by Levon Helm. Like the best songs on the album, Winchester's lyrics merge perfectly with his emotive voice, making the emotional message direct and effective. "The Brand New Tennessee Waltz" is another quality ballad, covered by numerous more famous artists. "Skip Rope Song" is an interesting experiment and change of pace, and the passionate spiritual call of "Quiet About It" is augmented by some of Robertson's most wicked shredding. "Black Dog" is one of the album's most interesting songs, an ominous meditation on the moral separation between man and animal. As the song builds to its peak, the pounding drums sound more like Led Zeppelin than the Band.
In all, Jesse Winchester is a sparkling debut, full of good, idiosyncratic songwriting sung by a unique voice. Robertson's guitar and the rest of the production do make the music sound similar to the Band, so if you're a fan of the Band looking for similar music by other artists, this is a great place to look. Winchester's second album, Third Down, 110 to Go, is equally as good, sounding much more unique due to Robertson's absence, but with the same quality of songwriting and performance. If you're looking to other Band-esqe material with participation by members, check out Bobby Charles, which is similar in style and quality to Jesse Winchester and the Band."
Brian Hicks | Oakland, CA | 11/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"How do I get your attention - those who don't know Jesse Winchester? Because you should, and this might be his best album. For me, his first two albums are among the handful that endure from the late 60s, early 70s - it is a short list: The first 2 albums by The Band; There Goes Rhymin' Simon by Paul Simon; Stevie Wonder's first two albums; Randy Newman's Good Ol' Boys; Moondance by Van Morrison... and Jesse Winchester's first two albums.
He writes wonderfully listenable music AND many of his songs have the most heartful, wise lyrics you will hear anywhere. Robbie Robertson produced and played guitar on the first record, and Amos Garrett played on the second - He attracted good musicians. (btw, there are some wonderful tracks on his more recent Gentleman of Liesure, too)"
Kimberly C. Huff | virginia transplant to mississippi | 11/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mr Winchester is probably the finest songwriter of all time. A very understated musician. One of the best."