I have been a fan of the music of Jesse Winchester since his first album was released in 1970. On hearing that album so long ago, I was impressed with Jesse’s songwriting and immediately intrigued by any album that included contributions from several members of The Band. I still listen to the album today. It has truly passed the test of time.
Until recently, I never had the opportunity to see Jesse play a live show. In fact, he has been on my short list, along with John Prine and Guy Clark, of artists I really like but have never seen live.
His show at the Mucky Duck in front of a small group of attentive and enthusiastic 50 year olds was well worth the wait. Jesse’s incredible songwriting was on display along with his beautiful voice and able guitar playing.
Drawing from his formidable catalogue, he mixed songs from his first album like Yankee Lady and Brand New Tennessee Waltz, with old favorites like Twigs and Seeds, Bowling Green and Nothing But a Breeze. All were delivered with his good-natured southern drawl and attitude.
He also played several tunes from his 2009 album Love Filling Station including Bless Your Foolish Heart, It’s a Shame About Him, Eulalie, and the Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding. I am not as familiar with some of these songs, but they were all great too.
He had the full attention of the audience for two sets and it was a pleasure to hear and see an artist of such talent up close and personal. It was a really nice evening of music and made me wish I had the opportunity to see more live music.
Repeated below from October of 2008 is post I wrote about his first album.
I bought this first album by Jesse Winchester when it was released in 1970. Since I was a huge fan of The Band, any album produced by Robbie Robertson easily caught my attention. Albert Grossman was managing Jesse at the time, so the album was released on the Bearsville Label. While writing this post, I have been listening to the album a lot. I had forgotten just how good it is.
Jesse Winchester was born in Bossier City, LA, but was raised in Memphis. After graduating from Williams College in 1966, he received his draft notice and moved to Canada to escape the draft. He met Robertson and Grossman while living and playing in Montreal in 1969.
In the photo on the cover of the album, Jesse looks like the sixth member of The Band. On many of these songs, he sounds like he is just that. With both Robertson and Levon Helm contributing on the album, the backing is like a stripped down version of The Band. Some of these songs are not far removed from The Basement Tapes.
Jesse's songwriting reflects the contrast between his southern upbringing and his northern life mandated by his flight to Canada to escape the draft. His lyrics are well written and playful at times, although some of the songs like Black Dog address darker themes.
The album starts with Payday which is a joyful, bluesy romp. The playing of that "mathematical guitar genius" is immediately recognizable. Robbie also has a co-writing credit on Snow which is kicked along by crisp drumming that sounds like Levon to my ear.
Yankee Lady, one of his best songs, describes the plight of a man torn between the love of a woman and a need to travel back to his southern roots. This theme of wanderlust and escape figures prominently in many of his songs. Note the tasteful mandolin from Levon on the cut.
Jesse's inability to tour the United States until after Jimmy Carter's draft amnesty in 1977 may have affected his career. When he was able to gain more exposure by touring, the singer songwriter era of the '70's was passing. He has never gotten the recognition that his music deserves.
This has left Jesse with a loyal following and the designation as a musician's musician, because of the impressive list of artists who have covered his songs. These include Jimmy Buffett, Elvis Costello, Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Garcia, and Reba McEntire.
If you don't have this album on your playlist, you should add it immediately. It is available on iTunes and from Amazon. Other recommended titles include:
- Gentleman of Leisure (1999)
- Live From at Bijou Cafe (2006)