Jesse Welles: The Voice of America’s Guilty Conscience

There is no lack of guys out in the woods with acoustic guitars, braying their guts out into condenser microphones and iPhones these days trying to become the second coming of Oliver Anthony. Even before “Rich Men North of Richmond,” this lo-fi approach to music distribution had already launched a good dozen careers.

Unlike a lot of his predecessors though, Jesse Welles is not some unknown or up-and-comer. He’s been around for over a decade releasing songs and albums, participating in various bands, and even recorded and released an album with producer Dave Cobb in 2018 called Red Trees and White Trashes under the shortened name “Welles.” The album is sort of a doomy, dirty, folk punk-inspired thrash rock affair that’s loud and unruly.

Originally from the small town of Ozark, Arkansas, Welles commenced his career in 2012 by releasing homespun recordings via Bandcamp and Soundcloud. He also formed a band called Dead Indian in 2012 that eventually released some singles, EPs and albums, and later Welles had a band called Cosmic-Americana. Welles has opened big shows for bands like Rival Sons and Greta Van Fleet. He eventually moved to Nashville to record with Dave Cobb.

But despite all of this history, it’s the recent viral videos of Jesse Welles out in the woods with a blonde 3/4-sized Stella guitar that has sparked a second coming of his career. It’s not just because it happens to be a good moment for songwriters to showcase themselves in this type of raw, unpolished setting, and a songwriter like Jesse Wells is so well equipped for this type of format. It’s because the songs of Jesse Welles are touching serious nerves at a time when the nerves of the United States and the rest of the world seem so frayed.

Looking like John Fogerty circa 1969, and perhaps taking inspiration from songs like “Fortunate Son,” Jesse Welles has taken to social media, going where even many of the supposed bravest Americana songwriters are unwilling to go after weighing what sharing the honest truth might do to their careers. With Welles, it’s his gonzo, unfiltered, non-commercial, devil may care honesty that is resonating.

In fact, one of the biggest ills plaguing the music industry at the moment is how a new version of “payola” has corrupted the streaming and social media markets where for the right price, you can have a “viral” moment too. Jesse’s now gone viral himself calling this nonsense out.

And what’s great about Jesse Welles is that he’s not taking any sides in the culture war except for those who are the victims. He’s not pulling any punches or taking any prisoners. Whether it’s America’s military industrial complex and the wars its perpetrating, the poison in our food, or the pharmaceutical companies who are making billions for writing scripts for over-diagnosed diseases or profiteering off the mental health crisis, Jesse Welles has some sharp words for them.

He’s not out here telling anyone to vote for one party over another. In fact in his song “The Olympics,” Welles lampoons America’s geriatric leadership. He’s speaking right to the souls of America’s forgotten, and addressing what politics these days seems to avoid: the issues that actually affect people’s lives. He even handles America’s obesity issues with the nuance that Oliver Anthony overlooked in the song “Fat.”

Even if Wells pokes at an issue you happen to disagree with, you can’t help but give him a pass because he’s so right about so much else, and he presents it all so cleverly in an almost stream of consciousness manner, making speaking truth to power so entertaining.

Welles was considered more of a rock artist than country or even roots previously. But with this recent batch of songs and videos released under his full name, he’s definitely finding traction with the country and Americana crowd. What will come of his recent singer/songwriter music we’ll have to see. Some of the songs have been released as acoustic versions onto streaming platforms.

But what’s for sure is that it’s often the most important artists that rise to the moment to say what needs to be said, that say the things that we’re all thinking but struggle to articulate, and that speak the truth when everyone else is compelled to lie. Right now, Jesse Welles is the man for this moment.

© 2024 Saving Country Music