Powerful, bottom heavy, but good headlamps. She loves to look good, but also can build an engine; loves fancy dress, yet plays in the mud. She’s drive-able in the city, and capable of off-road adventures. As much as country music loves the Daisy Duke, and the General Lee, symbols stereotypically good, The Outsider locks into enough country to forgive its deviations into punk spirit. Plus the record sounds good despite laying victim to the loudness war among more marketable music (a phenomenon wherein competitive labels require mixers and masterers to sacrifice layered dynamics for a compressed song that sounds louder, and more appealing). Jesse Dayton’s voice has a perfect amount of grit, with some smooth schmooze, and a cheesy baritone belt, amongst The Outsider’s solid country chord progressions, packaged well within a comfortable box.
In fact Jesse’s box might be too comfortable. And by marketable I don’t mean Jesse is unoriginal. If country is dominated by supremely marketable muzak, no doubt Jesse lies outside that cheap paradigm. Moreover, he leaves more recognizable country artists behind in his honest middle-of-the-road-common-sense style lyrics, typified in “Charlottesville”. Just like the albums broad sub-genre borrowings, The Outsider fills out archetypal country tropes like ‘a cowboy’s life of excess vs. keeping his loved ones’, or ‘drinking, smoking, screwing’. The same way that a rock band uses guitars, bass, and drums, a country outfit has to talk about these themes. It’s inseparable, even though some may roll their eyes. Now in his fifties, Jesse finds himself “staring down the barrel of the same old gun,” as a “banged up cowboy with one more lonesome bullet”, “hurtin’ behind the pine curtain…blowin’ smoke”, and “shooting liquor.” Burning inside, the soul, the spirit, his animus, the one that pushes him forward, dims. He cannot trust it enough to realize himself, what he needs; and what he needs, is what we need: good riffs, and slick licks. He’s got them bubbling inside him. Jesse, just trust the young lady in your soul and spit some hot fire! Despite magic fingers, his lyrical softness cannot separate him from typical country just by labeling himself an outsider, especially if he doesn’t do anything to deserve the title.
Granted I am no authority on country music, and it often lies outside my comfortable pool of choice artists. But I do know if I wanted agony and poetry I’d go to Townes van Zandt. If I wanted opinionated anti establishment punk-spirit, I’d go to Woody Guthrie; brokenhearted life lessons live and die in Hank Williams; and rip-roaring riff mania steps lightly through Jerry Reed's fingers.
It may be unfair to hold Jesse to the same standard as these country heavy weights, but his resume includes work with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings, all as far away form nobodies as you can get! Even though predecessors have done The Outsider’s medley of country styles better, Jesse clearly has reason to hang with superstars. That skill, primarily his high flying out of control yet measured guitar playing, is just recklessly too good in the album opener “May Have To Do It (Don’t Have To Like It)” and “Charlottesville”. Unfortunately Jesse treats his guitar playing like an infinitely potent scent permeating the songs like an extinguished match overpowers a foul odor. Yet we can’t get enough of his licks, we need more, more, more. The album makes the listener scream out “Entertain me!”—to which Jesse responds, “I’m walking to the scene/Gonna jump head first/Not the deep end but the shallows/Where it only makes it worse”. Trust yourself Jesse, take the plunge into the deep; and remember, 80% of shark bites occur in shallow water.
6.0 / 10
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