Thursday, April 16, 2009

Montreal Gazette's Album of the Week

Although my weekly CD reviews are gone from the Montreal Gazette (I promise to start posting reviews here soon), I still occasionally write the Gazette's Album of the Week feature. This week's is my review of Jesse Winchester's new album, Love Filling Station (Appleseed).

Jesse Winchester
Love Filling Station
****1/2 out of five


For a little over a decade, beginning with his self-titled debut classic in 1970, longtime Montrealer Jesse Winchester released albums of new material at a relatively prolific rate; seven albums in 11 years, each chock filled with great songs. In the ‘80s, though, the pace slowed to a trickle. There was a new album in 1989, then a decade’s wait until 1999.

Another decade has passed. In the years since, Winchester has remarried and left Quebec – where he lived for almost four decades since arriving at Dorval Airport as a Vietnam War-era draft resistor – for small town Virginia. And, at last, we have a new Jesse Winchester studio album; nine finely-crafted original gems and three excellent covers.

Winchester grew up in Memphis and his music has often blended Memphis R ‘n’ B traditions with country and folk influences. This album also has a very strong influence of early rock ‘n’ roll, particularly the ballad tradition of singers like Roy Orbison, a bit of jazz, and, perhaps in a nod to the sounds that waft through the Virginia countryside where he now lives, a hefty dose of bluegrass. Several of the core backup musicians, including guitarist Russ Barenberg, steel guitarist Jerry Douglas, fiddler Andy Leftwich and singer Claire Lynch have deep roots in bluegrass.

A couple of the songs, Bless Your Foolish Heart and Eulalie, both in country veins, first surfaced on Live from Mountain Stage, a live album put together from Winchester’s appearances on that American public radio program. Both seem fresh and new in these arrangements fleshed out by the fine studio band.

Another previously-heard tune is O What A Thrill, a ‘90s Winchester tune covered by the Mavericks. Winchester reclaims the song for himself with a gently rocking arrangement that highlights his haunting, liquid-like tenor voice. Others in that vein include Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding and a version of Stand By Me, the old Ben E. King hit that Winchester convincingly makes his own with his so-very-soulful singing and an arrangement highlighting Leftwich’s fiddling.

Other standouts include It’s A Shame About Him, an infectious country-swing tune that would have done Roger Miller proud, and the simply gorgeous I Turn To My Guitar which captures the feelings that have led to the creation of so much music by so many people over so many years.

The album ends with a terrific honky tonk duet that has Winchester trading lines with Lynch on Loose Talk, Carl Smith’s huge country hit from 1955.

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