Jesse Winchester “Third Down, 110 To Go”
With its more striking cover and impressive personnel (produced in Bearsville by Robbie Robertson with Levon Helm on drums and mando), Jesse Winchester’s self-titled debut is the go-to pick for newcomers to Jesse’s music. While I still consider it an absolutely essential disc for the strong songwriting, Robertson’s production is somewhat coarse and the record lacks a certain magic. Luckily, Jesse knew better how to present his tunes, and two years later delivered this special gem, co-produced with Todd Rundgren.
With delicate and soulful production, mostly adding only the scarcest accompaniment, Jesse Winchester offered an album with 12 fine songs short and sweet. Side one of the record is largely acoustic, barely spicing it up with tasteful electric guitar leads on the grooving opener and even what sounds to be synthesized clarinet on the instrumental Lullably For The First Born. But the lack of a full band is apt, especially combined with harmony lines withheld for all but the right moments. Side two features some trademark Rundgren production: listen to the elements of Midnight Bus build into a gnarly little rythmn section, worthy of the Stage Fright era Band’s finest.
A gift sent from the north. Jesse lived in Canada while recording this album having dodged the Vietnam draft, leaving his home state of Mississippi in the late 60s (one of my favorite Jerry Jeff Walker performances, Mississippi, You’re On My Mind was penned by Winchester). You might think he’d have a political message, but it’s more like sweet nothings. Sometimes bordering on cutesy, it’ll be ok to let this album hit your soft spot. Just know it’s likely to hit the right spot, whatever that is.