Jesse Winchester - A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble
Sometimes I really don’t know where to start, other than to advise you to listen to this album as soon as you can … but before you do, maybe a little background on the late Jesse Winchester and a few words about this deeply emotional record. When he started writing and recording these songs Jesse knew it was to be his final album. He’d been diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2011; he believed he was in remission, but in February 2014 the cancer returned and on April 11, just a few weeks shy of his 70th birthday he passed away. I first became hooked on his music back in 1970. I can never quite put my finger on why I connect with some singers and not others, but Jesse’s music touched my heart and soul from his very first album, and I religiously followed his career, eagerly collecting his albums, even though at times they were few and far between. Though he only enjoyed one ‘hit’ as a singer—1981’s Say What—his songs were successfully covered by a myriad of performers as diverse as the Weather Girls, George Strait, Wilson Pickett, the Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Fairport Revival, New Grass Revival, Jimmy Buffett, Elvis Costello and Wynonna Judd. I’m sure that many of you reading this will be familiar with some of Jesse’s songs, maybe without realising that he’d written them.
Jesse Winchester was a poet, storyteller, friend and lover, minister of the wide-eyed gospel of hope and grace. A totally unique singer-songwriter, throughout his life he consistently crafted deceptively simple filigreed emotional dramas, and his world-weary vocals delivered those heartfelt sagas that defined a southern way of life that has been slowly losing its troubadours. This album doesn’t break any new ground, just maintains the musical and lyrical thread that had been the Jesse Winchester way for close on 50 years. The record has a simplistic approach both technically and logistically. He incorporates elements of country, soul, gospel, Americana, folk and roots to conjure up a wonderfully spiritual and endearing album that touches upon life, death and love—musical conversations with friends re-evaluating what is important and what is transient.
His music possesses a timeless quality; an exquisite listening experience …delicately woven …like drifting through space. Never more so than with Ghosts, which I consider to be the album’s very heart and soul. Though this is an utterly personal song, it has a kind of universality that I believe would touch many, if only they were given the opportunity to hear it. He specialises in delivering bittersweet, personal lyrics with inventive acoustic arrangements that employ guitars, lap steel, accordion, fiddle, keyboards, saxophones and vocal harmonies to evoke the songs’ emotional landscapes. His masterful touch comes shining through with such delicate ruminations as All That We Have Is Now and the heartbreaking Every Day I Get the Blues. In shining contrast, Don’t Be Shy, is a retro-laced delight, blending innocent romantic motifs with a classic songwriting sensibility to create a truly beautiful pop song. Jesse also revamps three oldies—very old oldies—a reflective, poignant, and beautifully realised rendition of 1950s teen ballad Devil or Angel; a gentle revival of Rhythm Of The Rain backed by a shimmering pop production, he conjures up visions of sheer bliss, transferring this classic into something newly wondrous; and an infectious doo-wop version of the Del-Vikings’ Whispering Bells, which is pure nostalgia magic.
It’s evident, even on first listen, that this is a great record, but it seems fitting for an album so wholly imbued with longing that time alone will reveal its true strengths. Throughout the record is the theme of transition, searching for life’s meaning as you get older and for finding the grace in the gift of new beginnings. Jesse’s ruminations on morality and life in general are as thought-provoking as ever and his music as gorgeous. Album closer Just So Much, is his most honest song from a lifetime of honest songs. I’m not sure that I would approach the inevitable end of my life with such grace and bravura as Jesse Winchester, but this uplifting album could certainly help me along that road like no other.