Now we’re talkin’! Another great self-released country album, the sort of record that takes you by surprise, barrelling around a dangerous curve at 100 mph. There’s so much to like on Jesse Daniel’s eponymous debut; the songs are strong, the production has just the right amount of grit and the vibe’s up-beat, like a Saturday night in a California roadhouse, with lashings of electric twang, witty lyrics and a real good thump to the drums. With titles like Hell Bent and Comin’ Down Again, it’s not difficult to imagine what this album has in store. That said, few new artists can tell it as straight and true as Jesse Daniel does on Soft Spot (for the Hard Stuff), a confessional of sorts. Daniel’s story of substance abuse is no mere lyrical conjuring of romantic fantasy, rather a first-hand expression of a life he has thankfully managed to escape.
Starting out as a drummer for several punk bands around his home in Ben Lomand, California (north of Santa Cruz), Daniel found himself on the road and increasingly out of his head on various substances, graduating to the queen of the main line. Life followed a pick-n-mix of rehab, jail and homelessness. Daniel’s story of how he found his path to becoming a country musician is almost prophetic. Passing by a thrift shop on his way back to a motel room for a fix, he saw a group of homeless watching a TV in the window. Stopping to see what they were watching, he heard one of the men exclaim “hey, they’re pretty good”, before realising that one of the musicians on screen was his own father. Jesse and the other men went off to fix up in another motel room, where there was a TV set in the corner playing Buck Owens singing Act Naturally. Jesse Daniel hadn’t exactly seen the light, but the seeds of his redemption had been sewn.
A few years later, while in rehab in Oakland, Jesse heard the strum and twang of someone playing a Hank Williams tune in the next room. Wandering in to investigate, he sat to listen, later making his mind up to kick his habit, lay down the needle in favour of the guitar. Daniel hdd found his path at last, eventually managing to get on his feet, save $50 to buy a battered old Fender and start writing songs.
Soft Spot (for the Hard Stuff) doesn’t pull any punches in the story it tells, as the protagonist packs his life into a glass pipe and burns it down to the ground, all to a solid outlaw groove that adds the song extra credence. It’s a sure-fire Whiskey Preachin winner, as is SR-22 Blues, an up-tempo romp of a tale of a guy who has lost his driving licence for DUI and now walks twenty miles to his SR-22, the light aircraft that has replaced his car! The Banker is another highlight on this gem of an album, like a modern-day remake of Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, spinning the yarn of as banker who has been run over, resulting in thousands of dollars blowing down the street from his busted briefcase. If only…
Jessie Daniel has released a record that I expect will be at the front of the Whiskey Preachin record box for years to come. My LP copy can’t turn up soon enough.