Album Review – Jesse Welles – “Hells Welles”

#570.1 (Folk-inspired Americana) on the Country DDS

Cancer is as lucrative of a business as a war.
So if you ain’t expecting peace, why expect a cure?

It’s official, ladies and gentlemen. Late stage capitalism has set in and metastasized. Corporations have virtual control over our lives, from private equity cornering the market on the American dream and locking out younger workers, to social media networks selling our personal data, to pharmaceutical companies getting you coming and going with over-diagnosed ailments that require over-prescribed drugs that make you even more sick from the side effects.

Then there is the processed food that’s poisoning us and spiking Cancer rates, along with the corporate chemical polluters, while the military industrial complex perpetrates endless wars all across the globe, all while the octogenarian politicians entrusted to oversee everything become feeble and dementia-ridden, bickering among themselves while grasping rapaciously at the last dying gasps of power.

But hey, at least it is inspiring some really great music.

At this point, all that’s really left to do is laugh and be entertained. The madman musings of Jesse Welles are most certainly a more healthy alternative to cable news, or the “hawk tuah girl.” Over the last few months, Welles has been posting videos from out in the woods both lampooning and speaking sharp truth to power about a host of problems that seem to be snowballing together, hurdling towards a decidedly dystopian, or at least third world result for the United States.

It hasn’t just been the incredible keenness of the observances, or the tightness of the arguments, or the masterful turns of phrases from Welles that has made the whole damn thing so compelling. It’s also been the curiously voluminous nature of Jesse Welles output that has rocketed him from a somewhat obscure semi-successful rock musician to America’s Apocalyptic poet laureate. What Jesse Welles is doing right now truly is comparable to Dylan and Prine in their heyday, and it should be going viral and topping the charts like Oliver Anthony did a year ago.

Now Welles has taken 21 proper recordings of many of his now semi-viral live songs, and packaged them into an album called Hells Welles. Though the heart of the album is capturing the Welles experience in its raw, acoustic form where it’s at its most resonant and expressive, he does flesh out many of the recordings with extra acoustic parts or percussion. So even if you’ve worn out some of the videos on repeat, there’s still something worth paying attention to here.

In one song after another, and in one verse after another, Jesse Welles stuns with his cutting criticism interwoven with sarcasm addressing today’s current events. From the War in Gaza, to the fentanyl crisis, to the obesity epidemic, Xanax, modern slavery, even more recent events like the Boeing whistleblowers and the revelations about Nickeloden, Welles loads up and unleashes, all served through his cracked and raspy voice that may not be the sweetest sound you’ve ever heard, but makes the words feel that more impactful and foreboding.

Jesse isn’t totally bulletproof or immune from releasing a weaker song, though you can be fooled otherwise by falling down a YouTube rabbit hole that seems to be endless. Instead of only putting the cream of the crop on Hells Welles, he includes all of his songs, including a few like “Genocide Cake” that fails to convey the wit of many of his other songs to make its point.

Another concern about these songs is many of them are invariably time stamped because of the reliance on the news cycle. It will be curious to see if they’ll hold up years from now. But in certain respects, that’s the reason to release all of these songs right now. You wait 18 months to release some sort of compilation, and some of the songs will comes across as dated.

What’s perhaps even more insane is that Welles hasn’t stopped here. Just in the last couple of weeks he’s released even more songs addressing the Presidential debate and the celebration of Independence Day in the United States. There seems to be no bottom to the Jesse Welles well, and where so many performers fall within the American political binary with their commentary, Welles actively criticizes the duopoly while being willing to turn the poison pen on just about everybody.

At some point this word factory may run out of steam, or Welles may just get bored with being the current events commentary guy. But what’s for sure is it’s working for him right now, and the world’s disorder doesn’t show any signs of ceasing to serve up fresh material and inspiration for Welles to tap into. If anything, the challenge will be to keep up as we circle the toilet bowl in the coming months and years.

As entertaining all of of this is, if you have a loved one suffering from Cancer, are a 20 or 30-something with a steady job that still can’t afford a house, are truly heartsick over the endless wars the United States seems to fund or the overall future of the country from the lack of leadership, Jesse Welles is here to give voice to your pain and concern, and to speak truth to power. Art isn’t just entertainment. Though sometimes its effects are only felt in the margins, music and the power of the written word cannot be discounted.

The greatest art always reflects the era in which it is expressed. And right now, nobody is expressing the fear, anger, alarm, and frustration we all feel better than Jesse Welles.


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