In country music, one way to consider the quality of a song or album is to ask yourself what a country legend might feel about it. In the case of Jesse Daniel’s Beyond The Walls, I feel confident Tom T. Hall and Don Williams would approve of the way it helps reset your perspective on the simpler things in life. I believe George Strait and Alan Jackson would appreciate the way Jesse takes a straight-laced, straightforward approach to country. When it comes to what the legendary Raul Malo of The Mavericks, we don’t have to assume what he thinks of Jesse Daniel veering into Tejano on this record. By appearing on it himself, we know Raul approves.
Jesse Daniel was the former punk rocker and drug addict that used country music to clean up and point his nose in the right direction. That created a ton of intrigue and interesting content for his first couple of records. But the next question is, what do you write about when you’ve giving up all your rowdy ways, and resigned to a much more quiet, simple, dare we say ‘boring’ life? Well the answer is you write about that, and the virtues that lay within this change of pace.
This is what you’re greeted with in the first portions of Jesse’s third album Beyond These Walls—a song called “Simple Things,” another about simply lounging around in “Texas Summer Night,” and another about wasting time fishing called “Drop A Line.” These songs aren’t about much, but then again, they’re about everything important, which is slowing down, appreciating life, and enjoying the easy pleasures time on Earth affords as opposed to letting envy and anger get the best of you.
Along with delivering these important resets on perspective, Jesse Daniel also delivers a downright honky-tonk scorcher in “Think I’ll Stay.” Though it may not seem like anything super special at first, utilizing time-tested modes and turns, Jesse turns in a song you’re liable to put your boot through the floor stomping out the beat to if you’re not careful. This might be the best song to two-step to released in the last few years.
And for an album that marks one of its greatest assets as its adherence to the roots of country music, it actually has an extra dose of spice. It’s not strange to find a country record these days that has some silly pseudo-Mexican ode about getting smashed across the border. But instead of just adding a little accordion and maracas to a country song and slipping in references to “Cervezas,” Jesse Daniel actually writes and sings an entire song in Spanish in the working man’s anthem “El Trabajador,” accompanied by Raul Malo himself.
He revisits this style again in the (mostly) English-sung “Soñando Contigo,” which is one of two quality love songs on the album, the other being “Angel on the Ground”—not an entirely new premise, but one Jesse revitalizes with smart writing, assisted by his real life angel in co-writer, harmony singer, and day-to-day manager Jodi Lyford. All great artists often have an ace-in-the-hole, and for Jesse, it’s Jodi.
But if we’re being honest, you begin to get a little concerned going through this album that it won’t deliver enough depth to stimulate all of the erogenous zones of your musical palette to remain in your listening rotation beyond a few spins. Songs about fishing and summer nights are fine, but may only hold your attention span for so long. And though the effort is admirable, maybe you just don’t know or appreciate the Spanish language or style enough for this wrinkle to make this country record remarkable to you.
That’s when Jesse Daniel springs on you two of the best-written songs on the record in the timely and relevant “Living in the Great Divide” about the bifurcation of America, and then the gut-punching “Gray” about that guy we all know that never gave up his rowdy ways, and pays for it more and more every day. Drawing from the wisdom of his own experiences, Jesse Daniel proves in the latter stages of this record that he’s not just an entertainer, but an artist.
And then to top it all off, Jesse Daniel ends the album with a bluegrass number in “I’ll Be Back Around.” Well-produced by Tommy Detamore and performed by a crack team of professional guys, Beyond These Walls establishes that Jesse Daniel should no longer be considered the future of country music. He should be considered the present.
1 3/4 Guns Up.
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