Jesse Malin’s transition from snotty frontman for NY punks D Generation to acoustic troubadour has been a natural progression over the last 15 years. The long and winding road has seen him release 7 solo albums, collaborating with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams and Brian Fallon along the way.
Critically praised, yet commercially ignored (hey, aren’t all the best songwriters? Ginger,Tyla and Butch Walker, here’s looking at you!). His live shows, whether solo or with a band, can be an immersive experience full of storytelling, comedy and crowd interaction. Jesse Malin continues to tell tales of dreamers, schemers, hustlers and dealers. These are his songs about the characters from his native New York and stories about those he meets on the road.
Jesse’s latest album ‘Sunset Kids’ is a collaboration with country legend Lucinda Williams, who Malin met by chance in a club. They discussed making an album together after she invited him to Tom Petty’s final concert. During the writing and recording Jesse lost his father, his good friend Todd Youth and even the engineer of the album Davis Bianco.
Opener ‘Meet Me At The End Of The World Again’ is a re-recording of the lead track from 2017’s ‘Meet Me At The End Of The World’ EP. This version benefits from Lucinda’s lush production and masterful guidance. The verse, sung in Jesse’s lower register with the addition of warm bass and a tinkling of the ivories, comes on like prime Lou Reed. It lends itself well as a great build to the infectious chorus full of lush, gang vocals. It’s a laid back, lazy sounding slice of retro rock ‘n’ roll, the kind that only a New York resident could produce. This is Jesse walking on the wildside and that’s about as rock ‘n’ roll as you can get.
Next up, the countrified ‘Room 13’ is a reflective ode to spending time in hotel rooms (Jesse has been known to book himself into hotels to write songs in isolation, with no distractions). This is prime Malin songwriting, featuring Lucinda’s lush vocal harmonies and twangy countrified guitars, the sparse instrumentation creates space and atmosphere that only adds to the laid back, signature melodies Jesse creates.
There’s a nice ebb and flow to the album, from the upbeat to the downbeat. Reflective, acoustic laments like ‘When You’re Young’ and ‘Revelations’ rub (leather) shoulders with funky 70’s groovers such as ‘Do You Really Wanna Know’ and the overly cool ‘Dead On’, 2 tunes that deserve to be jammed out by cool cats in smoky bars, while whores hustle and hustlers whore around them.
The upbeat ‘Chemical Heart’ has the same feel as his version of The Hold Steady’s ‘You Can Make Them Like You’ from the excellent ‘On Your Sleeve’ covers album. Nice stabs of Hammond give this song a quirky burst of energy. It’s one of the coolest on offer, along with ‘Strangers and Thieves’, co-written by Billy Joe Armstrong as part of their Rodeo Queens side project. A euphoric, countrified rock ‘n’ roll blast if ever there was one. Lucinda’s lush backing vocals add depth, great percussion and twangy guitars give a Stonesy ‘All Down The Line’ feel. A much needed dose of urgency.
Jesse’s tales of working class guys, lost love and dreaming of breaking out of the rat race have been popular themes with the guy since D Generation burst onto MTV with ‘No Way Out’, and although the production may have changed, the message is still the same. As he suggests in ‘Shining On’, you gotta keep on, keeping on. “Call me a cab for the last plane to tomorrow” he asks on ‘Promises’ and ‘Grey Skies Look So Blue’ floats along on a summer breeze as Jesse dreams about packing his bags and getting away.
When an artist goes through tumultuous times, when a songwriter experiences heartache or pain, and truly has something to write about, THAT is when they are at their best. Like much of Jesse’s solo work, ‘Sunset Kids’ is a reflective body of work, full of heartfelt tenderness and cool rock ‘n’ roll, but for whatever reason it resonates so much more than his past albums. And with the help of Lucinda Williams, he may well have made the album of his career.
Author: Ben Hughes