Classic country music fans, train your attention squarely upon the skinny shanks and fresh face of California songwriter and singer Jesse Daniel, for he’s about to become your next favorite artist, and Rollin’ On your next favorite album. It’s only a few precious times each year we get to enjoy a landmark release that really defines the best in country music, and goes on to cement an artist as an important part of country moving forward. The release of Rollin’ On is one of those moments.
It’s country. It’s cool. It’s well-written, and exquisitely produced and performed by the top notch musicians involved. Most everything is spot-on down to the mixing and mastering. Taking pointers from the rough and tumble cowboys of the classic Bakersfield Sound and the King of country cool himself in the incomparable Mr. Yoakam, Jesse Daniel brings the West Coast “dim lights, thick smoke” dimension to country back to life in the modern context, and does so while maintaining a robust adherence to the tenets of traditional country.
The story of Jesse Daniel is like a country song itself. A scabby kid from small town California misspends his youth banging on drums in punk bands, and blowing his cash on tattoos and skag, trying poorly to stay on the right side of the law. Then the sounds of country music remind him of a more simple time and place, saving his life. Country music became Jesse Daniel’s compass, inspired him to get sober, and drew him in so deeply, it not only saved his soul, it called him to service. Now Jesse is out to save a few souls of his own, and be an inspiration both to those looking to get clean and turn their lives around, and to those who worship at the altar of American twang.
Jesse Daniel’s self-titled album from 2018 was a fine affair itself, a good starting point and an auspicious debut. But it was much more of the underground-inspired style of country music, with illicit drug use and other rough-and-tumble themes, and scratchy recordings with pickup players. But Rollin’ On is the full package. Produced by Tommy Detamore, all stops were taken out and no expense was spared, and you can hear it in the finished product. Without talking about the songs themselves or anything else, Rollin’ On just sounds so damn good.
All these filmy, dingy records coming out of East Nashville these days, they’re immediately put to shame by the effort found in Rollin’ On. It’s not rocket science. Just find the best players you can, work hard to get the best takes, and don’t compromise due to the constraints of time or anything else. Show allegiance to the songs and the process and get it right, even if it’s painful to do so. The studio should hurt a little. That’s how you know you’re doing it right.
Jesse Daniel is not some excellent singer with a legacy voice. It’s the heart and conviction he brings to every song that makes him special. His style of writing is more inspired from the classic forms of country reworked into his own expressions as opposed to the Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt take on poeticism first. Jesse Daniel is here to entertain you, and get you twirling your partner on the dance floor. Nonetheless, there’s little lessons to learn and smart perspectives to share, and moments that are deceptively deep, hidden behind the folksy writing, taken from the hard lessons Jesse Daniel has earned.
Whether it’s the keep it simple, and stay grateful themes in “If You Ain’t Happy Now” or “Mayo and the Mustard,” or more reminiscent songs like “Sam” and “Son of the San Lorenzo,” Jesse renders every song on Rollin’ On enjoyable. He also has an ace in the hole in his writing and singing partner Jodi Lyford, whose harmonies and help with writing put the sound of Jesse Daniel over the top.
And as fawning with approval as you will find yourself for this record, it still feels like Jesse has some room left to grow from Rollin’ On. I’m not sure how the sound and picking could get any better. There’s even a cool instrumental track on the album called “Chickadee.” But he could continue to mature in his writing by untethering himself a little bit more from traditional country modes and themes, and explore some of the storyteller aspect of his approach, and share some more of the wisdom that he’s earned in his young, but hard-lived life.
As Jesse Daniel explains in the song “Old At Heart,” this is no act. He’s found the skin he was born to live in through traditional country, and he couldn’t fit in it more smartly. Rollin’ On is a testament to that, and his commitment to music and himself and his own well-being through music, and you can’t help but feel that passion and purpose in each track.
Two Guns Up (9/10)
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