Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Jesse Malin - New York Before the War, album review


You’ll be expecting punkrock or justrock, but not on first track which is a pretty, piano-led ballad The Dreamers, and when the chorus kicks in with female vocal accompaniment there is a wistfulness to the sound. Second Addicted isn’t quite into rock gear yet – not even garage – and is more upbeat-lite as it reminisces on music in the past, and this harking back further than one would imagine Jesse truly grew up to with its rock’n’roll pop sensibility.

Third Turn Up the Mains turns up the pace and rocks to the latter Rolling Stones template. It’s fourth Oh Sheena that drives into more expected Malin territory, the punky jauntiness and Jesse’s distinctive tenor-whine sounding familiar. But still anchored by a pop production. Fifth She’s So Dangerous is such a sweet starter, just Jesse and guitar before the band join in this slow chug of a song, organ and harmony vocal a slight buffer in the background before it builds to the piano rolls. Wistful again. Guitars then wail and build too and the emotion of the song is palpable.

This is followed by The Year That I Was Born which in its folk simplicity confirms how much this is a songwriter’s album, and one reflecting on the past, musically and lyrically. It’s not until eighth Freeway that we are back on rockier ground. Tenth She Don’t Love Me Now is an R&B melody reflecting brightly, and ironically, on losing love. It’s on eleventh Death Star that we get a feel of that expected New York punkrock.

The album closes on thirteenth Bar Life, Malin in storytelling mode, and it is the most developed song on the album, the wistfulness here in the persona’s reflecting on a life lived, and what seems acceptance rather than regret.

Not a rocker then overall, but this is a mature and melancholy grasp of the real with occasional pop celebrations, bookended by two excellently crafted songs, performed with sincerity.

I got to see Jesse Malin play the Cavern in Exeter some years ago now, a small venue with an appreciative crowd where he rocked the house. He has clearly grown and moved on, but then, don’t we all. 

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