April 16, 2024

Jesse Malin – New York Before The War


30th March 2015

He’s a scrapper, is Jesse Malin. An almost stereotypical New Yorker – short, wound tightly full of vim and gifted with a mouth almighty. Having worked every toilet club in Britain over and over for years, I had lost sight of his career recently and I’m genuinely delighted to see him still working. He’s one of those artists that have a devoted cult following and famous supporters, yet don’t quite crack the big time, gifting us with the treat of intimate venues and cracking gigs. The likes of Ryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen have pushed his career along and worked with him and the stylistic links are clear. Malin describes the album title as “a metaphor for surviving in an ever changing, rapidly desensitized world while trying to find a way to live truly.” Many of his songs hit the themes of getting by in a tough world and grabbing beauty where you can.

Given to long and excitable interviews, Malin has won this interviewer over numerous times then gone on to inspire audiences to giddy acts like sitting on the floor of filthy rock venues while he sings his favourite Neil Young song. Add to that scurrilous tales about New York life and shifting Barbara Streisand’s piano and you’ll see why people who’ve been to a gig tend to stick with the guy, even with a five year gap between this and the last album.

Opener, The Dreamers, is strong; a power ballad on piano arpeggios. Addicted follows up with the jaunty shuffle Malin specialises in – part Clash, part rockabilly, part New York punk. Turn Up The Mains is punchy and aggressive in the way Television could be back in the late seventies period that Malin loves so much. Straddling a range of genres, Malin can be at home in a special Americana, one that belongs to the American punk era. Oh Sheena is a big punky love song with a note of adenoidal longing. She’s So Dangerous is another power ballad with nicely distorted choppy guitar chords. The Year That I Was Born is a melancholy story song preceding Boots Of Immigration, which is a solid rocker. Freeway is very much in character, the song of a survivor, ignited by MC5’s Wayne Kramer’s solo.

The abiding reference points for this set are American punk / new wave, The Clash and Wilco-ish ballads. His songs are personal, inspired, inspiring and somehow universal. There is the lyricism of a Springsteen wrapped in the sensibility of a punk rocker cum Americana artist with a gift for a big rock ballad and power pop punk. This album collects and consolidates the themes and styles of earlier work and seems to have a bigger production with more sheen in places without any stylistic departures (not that they were needed). Bar Life, the album closer, is a piano ballad, recounting the ups and downs of playing scuzzy venues and seems, like so many of these songs to come from a real place, suffused in personal feeling. The album is a fine jumping-on point as well as an addition to the catalogue. Malin is touring in May and I recommend checking one of the dates out.

About Author