ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
On My Mind, In My Heart, by Jesse Dee
Who’d have thought that a kid from Arlington Massachusetts could so brilliantly channel Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Al Green? Ladies and gentlemen, meet Jesse Dee.
Over the course of 11 tracks, Dee rocks, rolls, reels and strolls as if he was raised in the Deep South alongside the greats. Whether whipping up a frenzy on tracks like “Sweet Tooth” or playing the gentle balladeer on “What’s a Boy Like Me to Do,” Dee infuses his music with a powerful authenticity.
It’d be one thing if Dee was just the voice, but as a songwriter he has captured the essence of old school soul. There was a simplicity and sincerity to the classic soul and R&B hits, emphasizing emotional impact over lyrical complexity. This quality is not lost on Dee, who infuses his songs with the same passion.
“Sweet Tooth” rumbles with a burning intensity as Dee tells a lover, “”I’m sorry sugar but I’ve got to give you up.” If the blazing mid-song sax solo doesn’t mentally transport you to a Mississippi juke-joint then, well, you have little soul.
Dee lets a bit of falsetto fly on “No Matter Where I Am.” The song injects a bit of boogie into the beat and a chorus that is ripe for sing-alongs. “When trouble comes around and your world comes tumbling, tumbling right on down,” he sings, “don’t you know that you can count on me, I’ll be there.”
Ready for some pop perfection? Then seek out “From the Start” and “Stay Strong.” Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive lends her magical voice to the former song, a joyous and carefree song about finding love. “I thought we’d never find love,” she and Dee duet, “but here we are ready for a brand new start.”
“Stay Strong” has a swagger that is equally uplifting. “Hang on just a little bit longer, darlin’ don’t you despair,” he counsels, “stay strong, you gotta stay strong girl, it won’t be long ‘til we get there.” This is feel-good music at its finest.
Dee plays the troubled lover on tender ballad “What’s a Boy Like Me to Do.” “I can’t bring myself to leave you but I can’t really trust you either, so I’m feeling so confused” he sings with a voice that is restrained yet passionate.
No old-school soul record would be complete without a healthy dose of horns. In this regard, this album doesn’t disappoint. Trumpeter and arranger Scott Aruda and his fellow musicians give every song extra punch. It’s as if the Memphis Horns relocated to Boston.
Are you ready for some soul? It doesn’t get much better than this.
Audio Download: Jesse Dee, “On My Mind, In My Heart”
There’s just something about a Richard Thompson song. Maybe it is the subtle intelligence of the lyrics or perhaps it is the gentle nature of his singing. Then again, it could be the guitar-playing that is simply sublime. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, his latest release does little to solve this riddle.
Songs don’t come much more powerful than “Another Small Thing in Her Favour,” an emotionally raw portrayal of a romantic break-up. The contrast between Thompson’s lyrical reflection on the relationship and a musical arrangement that gives the song a gentle forward momentum is simply brilliant. Moving forward while longing for what was lost.
Now there’s trouble and strife
But we once had a life
For a while our vows didn’t waver
I relied on her smile
And her love, for a while
That’s Another Small Thing In Her Favour
The emotions run the other way on “Good Things Happen to Bad People” as Thompson tells a wandering lover, “Like a caged bird that’s broken free, you want to fly high and mess on me.” And then he let’s his guitar do the talking with a jagged solo. His final warning: “Good things happen to bad people, but only for a little while.”
Alison Krauss lends her voice to the somber English folk ballad “The Snow Goose.” It features some raw and vivid lyrics:
Northern winds will cut you
Northern girls will gut you
Leave you cold and empty
Like a fish on the slab
Album closer “Saving the Good Stuff for You” shows that Thompson isn’t always singing about break-ups. The gentle folk song features a warm acoustic guitar solo and showcases Siobhan Maher Kennedy’s guest vocals and Stuart Duncan’s fiddle. “All the time I didn’t know it,” Thompson confesses, “I was saving the good stuff for you.”
Thompson recorded the album with Buddy Miller at Miller’s home studio. The partnership was a good one as Miller has a restrained but deliberate hand, applied to perfection across this release.
In the end, though, it is Thompson that truly shines. Electric is yet another reminder of his musical mastery.
Audio Download: Richard Thompson, “Another Small Thing in Her Favour”
Little Colored Balloons, John Murry (from the Evangeline Recording release The Graceless Age)
The Mississippi-raised Murry, a second cousin to William Faulkner, vividly chronicles his battle with drugs and his near-death from an overdose in this 10 minute opus. A piano and violin, occasionally joined by an ominous-sounding cello, provide a stark canvas for Murry’s story.
Saran Wrap and little colored balloons. A black nickel. A needle and a spoon. You say this is ain’t what I am? Well, baby, this is what I do to warn your ghost away. I know you don’t believe in magic. Nobody does. Not anymore.
The Graceless Age is a raw and powerful album. And, yes, that is his mother at the end of the song.
Audio Download: John Murry, “Little Colored Balloons”
Inside Joke, Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck (from the Tweed River Productions release Eden)
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to learn that Thayer resides in the mountains of Vermont. There’s a refreshing airiness to his music, even when he and Perfect Trainwreck launch into extended rock jams. I love the soaring, horn-propelled chorus on this stand-out track from his excellent new release.
Audio Download: Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck, “Inside Joke”
I Was Cruel, Caitlin Rose (from the ATO Records release The Stand-In)
It’s hard not to be enamored with Rose’s voice. It has a pristine beauty, even when she singing a song called “I Was Cruel.” While I gravitated towards more pop-oriented songs like this one and “Menagerie’,” this release is notable for encompassing a broad range of musical styles such as the old timey “Old Numbers.”
Audio Download: Caitlin Rose, “I Was Cruel”
Just Want You to Love Me, Glenn Yoder & the Western States (from the self-released Javelina)
With all due respect to Punxsutawney Phil, there is usually one song each year that is the true harbinger of spring. You know the type, the kind of song that radiates sunshine and induces a smile on even the grayest of days. Congratulations Glenn, this year you claim the prize.
You can download the entire Glenn Yoder & the Western States release for free here.
Audio Download: Glenn Yoder & the Western States, “Just Want You to Love Me”
Someone Else’s Cake, Red Jacket Mine (from the Fin Records release Someone Else’s Cake)
Is the plethora of power pop releases a sign of spring’s arrival? It certainly seems that way. Add Seattle/Portland’s Red Jacket Mine to the list of sunshiny recent releases. This track’s 1960’s style pop song really hits the spot with its hand-claps and head-bobbing chorus.
And don’t miss the band’s cool retro video here.
Audio Download: Red Jacket Mine, “Someone Else’s Cake”
Fire on the Wire, Bill Carter (from the Unison Music Group release Unknown)
Carter is a songwriter’s songwriter, whose songs have been recorded by over 200 artists (including Stevie Ray Vaughan, who rode Carter’s “Crossfire” up the charts). Carter finally stretches his own legs on Unknown.
This track recalls some of Bob Dylan’s finest early work a lyric-intensive story with an equally strong melody.
Audio Stream: Bill Carter, “Fire on the Wire”
Goddamn Glorious, Ari Shine (from the Meticulous Records release Songs of Solomon)
It’s hard not to find Shine’s ode to new-found love endearing. It has a home demo quality that places Shine’s songwriting front and center.
Audio Download: Ari Shine, “Goddamn Glorious”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.