Album Review – Jesse Daniel’s “Countin’ The Miles”

#510.2 and #510.3 (Honky Tonk and Hard Country) on the country DDS.

Hot damn, son. Jesse Daniel brings a loaded down Peterbilt’s worth of full-tilt twang to this one, and puts all worries about “wHaT’s HAppeNeD To TOdAyS COunTRY mUsIc!” to bed. You want country music? Listen to Jesse Daniel.

If you ain’t country, you will be after giving this thing a spin. You’ll be trying on ostrich boots and Resistol hats, saying “Yes sir” and “Yes ma’am” to everyone you meet, and cooking all your meals in a hole in your back yard just big enough for a cast iron dutch oven. Your neighbors will be wondering what the hell happened to the mild-mannered investment banker next door, but you’ll be in country music heaven with Countin’ The Miles blaring on repeat.

Jesse Daniel’s already dazzled us with his first three albums. But with his first album in three years, he takes the reins as producer for the first time, and triples down on his commitment to authentic honky tonk sounds and the country music way of life.

When Jesse Daniel espouses the importance of country, he’s not just talking about a music genre. To him, “country music” is just as much a lifestyle, a state of mind, darn near an ideology or even a religion to live up to and abide by. It’s about hard work, honesty, self-reliance, and doing right by yourself and others. Daniel is such a devoted apostle to country music because it’s what he used to straighten his own life out and find a righteous path.

To be honest, when taken together, the three early singes released from this album had you a little concerned it may be a little too “get off my lawn” with some of the bellyaching about the wrong direction of everything in today’s world. The Merle Haggard influence in fellow California native Jesse Daniel comes to the forefront, including with the song “Tomorrow’s Good Ol’ Days” that features Merle’s son and fellow performer Ben Haggard.

But just like Jesse Daniel has shown throughout his career, it’s not just the hard country sound he forwards, but the stories he tells, the characters he creates, and the wisdom he shares that makes his kind of country music the kind of country music you consider your favorite too.

On Countin’ The Miles, Jesse Daniel and co-writer/harmony singer Jodi Lyford do what all great traditional country artists do: take the timeless stories of country, and figure out new and fresh ways to tell them. “Ol’ Montana” is a classic story of moving away from home and getting your heart broken, but with a murderous twist. “Steppin’ Out” reminds you of the feistiest duets between Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty back in the day.

Jesse Daniel also sings about both sides of the honky tonk life: the freewheelin’ and fancy free part of dancing your cares away until the early morning, and the empty feeling for those who get caught in that life and never leave. No matter what stage of life you may happen to be in, Jesse Daniel has a song for you. “When Your Tomorrow’s In The Past” is one of those songs that gets better every time you listen.

But let’s not bury the lede here. As great as the writing is for many of the the eleven songs of Countin’ The Miles, it’s the steel and lead guitar work on this record that is super tasty, incredibly twangy, and makes this album worthy of spinning even if lyricism is something you rarely pay attention to.

Whatever deficit mainstream country has accrued in the twang department over the last 20 years, Countin’ The Miles darn near balances it out. Jesse Daniel the producer was patently unafraid to call for more twang and more twang until it might be scientifically impossible to fit any more into these tracks. This all culminates in the final song “Cut Me Loose” where the lead instruments are allowed extra rounds to get their licks in before the album concludes in a fade out.

Think that country music’s dead? That there hasn’t been anything good in 20 years? Well then you don’t know Jesse Daniel.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.4/10)

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