Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jesse Winchester

  • Jesse Winchester [Ampex, 1970] A-
  • Third Down, 110 to Go [Bearsville, 1972] B-
  • Learn to Love It [Bearsville, 1974] B-
  • Let the Rough Side Drag [Bearsville, 1976] C+
  • Nothing But a Breeze [Bearsville, 1977] B
  • A Touch on the Rainy Side [Bearsville, 1978] C-
  • Talk Memphis [Bearsville, 1981] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Jesse Winchester [Ampex, 1970]
A Memphis boy who now resides in Canada for the usual reasons draftables reside in Canada, Winchester shares with his Southern-identified Canadian producer Robbie Robertson a knack for renewing the traditional in songs that rock and yet are (a title) "quiet about it." The clincher is "Yankee Lady," the most dangerous gotta-hit-the-road-now-babe song ever because it makes male chauvinism seem emotionally responsible--you really feel that fate has betrayed the bread-baking and winning paragon of the title, not her gentle love slave Jesse. A-

Third Down, 110 to Go [Bearsville, 1972]
Winchester's first LP was apolitical on the surface and not without its conservative tendencies, but its brooding lyricism and barely contained ferment reflected the force of will it took for him to flee this country. Here the frustrations of exile seem to have gotten to him--he sounds involuted, willfully slight. The title is a football fan's version of "(Stuck Inside of Montreal with the) Memphis Blues Again," and even more telling is the way he feels about fatherhood: "I can't get out of that." B-

Learn to Love It [Bearsville, 1974]
Jesse sounds well. His singing has taken on character and humor and the new songs are pretty good. Yet there's something depressing about his resigned good cheer. Can domesticity be this disappointing--even domesticity confined within a draft resister's Canada? Only if you believe to your Mississippi soul that you were born a rambling man. B-

Let the Rough Side Drag [Bearsville, 1976]
Third Down and Learn to Love It were thin but never less than pleasant, mostly because Winchester is such a warm, astute singer. This is a shade thinner, and when Ol' Jess goes MOR with "As Soon as I Get on My Feet" or transforms "Brand New Tennessee Waltz" into a straight country tune, it's less than pleasant. C+

Nothing But a Breeze [Bearsville, 1977]
One reason Winchester disappointed after his first album is that he was conceived as a singer-songwriter, expected to deliver a couple of gems and five or six semiprecious stones a year. Finally seeing him live with his cheerful, competent band was a revelation--suddenly he became a country singer who could also rock out. He proves it on this LP, which is, however, short on semiprecious stones and entirely gemless--although "Gilding the Lily" turns a cliche the way only a popular song can and the foolishness of "Rhumba Man" borders on brilliance. B

A Touch on the Rainy Side [Bearsville, 1978]
Winchester has made a couple of pretty good albums (the first and the fifth), three uneven ones (two, three, and four) and a real stinkeroo (say hello to number six). The only thing that might make the lyrics more annoying would be for the music to induce you to notice them, and the best song on the record was done a lot better eight years ago by Tony Orlando. C-

Talk Memphis [Bearsville, 1981]
For some reason I'd hoped that Jesse's meet-up with Willie Mitchell would inspire both of them to get funky--so much so that at first I mistook tuneful for a substitute. Then I recalled that these days tuneful demifunk is a working definition of pop. And realized that this isn't all that tuneful. B-