Jesse Winchester

All posts tagged Jesse Winchester

jeWith American recording studios open to him for the first time, Jesse Winchester traveled to Nashville and enlisted producer Norbert Putnam, who assembled the elements of the Nashville sound, with its strings and horns and backup choruses, to make an album that moved him more toward lush country and especially R&B. Winchester’s flexible voice, capable of gliding into a sweet falsetto, made the latter more successful than might have been expected. What kept the album from being one of his better collections was not the slick production — it was the material. A year after a media blitz had failed to make him a star, Winchester was starting to show signs of strain. He led the album off with the title track, an explicit expression of devotion to his wife, who he mentioned by name. This was followed by a sour on-the-road song, “A Showman’s Life,” and later on there were tributes to driving and drinking. In fact, the most heartfelt song was “Little Glass of Wine,” an alcoholic’s love song. None of this was up to his songwriting standard.

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roughideasfrontRough Ideas is a collection of the original demo versions of a dozen songs. They were recorded in my home studio to be played for producers and artists looking for material. Thanks to a multi-track recorder and my gift for performing adequately on several instruments, I am accompanied by The Band of My Dreams: ten imaginary virtuosi in purple suits who wait quietly while I figure out how the song goes, play and sing all night for free, and whose tastes and habits correspond precisely with my own. When you remember how difficult just one real musician can be, you will see why I love The Band of My Dreams. I re-recorded most of these songs in a Nashville studio for the Sugar Hill CD, Gentleman Of Leisure, this time with The Real Band of My Dreams – Jerry Douglas and his friends. But I still like these rough ideas.
– Jesse Winchester

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jesseAs the title suggests, making a virtue of necessity had always been one of Jesse Winchester’s goals, and by the time of the release of his third album, the American expatriate had gone ahead and assumed Canadian citizenship. This seemed to free him to comment explicitly on his antiwar exile in “Pharaoh’s Army” and especially a version of the old campaign song “Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt” updated with new lyrics: “In the year of 1967, as a somewhat younger man, the call to bloody glory came, and I would not raise my hand.” Elsewhere, Winchester continued to write love songs to his lost South (“L’Air de la Louisiane,” “Mississippi You’re on My Mind”) and, to a lesser extent, to pursue the wistful philosophizing found on Third Down, 110 to Go (“Defying Gravity”). The sense that he was repeating himself was inescapable, however, and with one-third of the album written by others and two of the originals in French Canadian, it was also obvious that Winchester was straining to come up with material. Interestingly, the two Russell Smith songs included, “Third Rate Romance” (which Smith sang uncredited) and “The End Is Not in Sight,” went on to become Top 40 country hits for Smith’s group, the Amazing Rhythm Aces, in the next two years. Stoney Edwards took “Mississippi You’re on My Mind” into the country Top 40 in 1975.

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JESSEHaving rushed to make Nothing but a Breeze and A Touch on the Rainy Side and getting his two least impressive albums for his trouble, Jesse Winchester spent two and a half years woodshedding before returning to the record racks with Talk Memphis. For the album, he returned to his hometown and worked with producer Willie Mitchell, best known for his Al Green records. It wasn’t as unlikely a matching as might be imagined; Winchester had always had a soulful, flexible voice as ready as Green’s to take off into the upper registers to express emotion. And Memphis-style R&B had always been an element, along with country, folk, pop, and gospel, in Winchester’s sound. On his early albums, his lighthearted style had been in the service of an embattled vision, but gradually that darkness gave way, to the point that he began to seem lightweight. Talk Memphis put his effervescence and musicality to good use, resulting in his first Top 40 hit, the catchy “Say What,” and the rest of the album was just as easy on the ears, with the title track providing a suitably gritty Memphis-soul sendoff. But that wasn’t enough to break the album beyond the bottom rungs of the charts, and after seven albums in 11 years, Winchester left the world of major-label record-making.

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