Jesse Malin

He’s back!
One evening I was playing his second album to a friend, telling them how good his live gigs were then, the next day, this album plopped through the letter box. Yeah! I love it when the universe works like that.

Glitter In The Gutter, while sounding like the sort of title Marc Almond would come up with for a song on his Vermin In Ermine album, is a set of songs for the down-trodden. The constant theme is one of overcoming the odds, struggling to survive or just making it through to the next day. And, coming from Brooklyn, with a set of stories of the make-do jobs he’s hacked through to make a living (furniture removals for Barbara Streisand…..), he knows a bit about hard knocks. The first song sets the tone: “It’s a beautiful day; don’t let them take you down”. It’s his quality of singing about the everyday detail of life and the ray of sun in the gloom that earned him comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and Broooce turns up here, duetting on ‘Broken Radio’ – “raised on robbery and rock and roll”. Meanwhile, on the same song, Ryan Adams contributes squally, erratic guitar. Ryan is an old mate of Jesse, once releasing a now-rare hardcore punk album with him under the band name The Finger. Jesse, himself, used to front New York punks D-Generation and spikes of that poke through here – this being a notch harder than previous offerings but still firmly on the melodic mainstream of Americana. There are gentler acoustic moments too. They remind me of the first time I saw him play – he had to play solo acoustic in the huge Manchester Apollo as opener to Ryan Adams. It must have been terrifying on that wide stage but he fronted it out like the archetypal sawn-off Brooklyn short-arse – all attitude and self-belief. Later that evening, while we avoided Ryan Adam’s shamefully pissed and unsteady performance, he buzzed with energy as he reeled off names of obscure UK punk bands that he wanted to share with me. That hypnotic energy has proved to be a constant in his gigs at smaller venues, once persuading the entire audience in the grubby Leeds Cockpit to lie on the beer and fag besmirched floor to complement a song of his.

Other guests turn up to flatter – Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age, Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters and Jakob Dylan from Wallflowers. Meanwhile he pays tribute in song to Lucinda (Car Wheels On A Gravel Road) Williams. Mostly the sound is a mainstream but country-inflected rock, tinged with minor chords and a wistful sadness, looking up in hope. Songs are more abstract than before – in the past, many were story songs or word portraits, these carry the same sense but in a less direct way, a more impressionistic daubing of words on music. He takes an old song – ‘Since You’re In Love’ – from three years ago and extends it beyond a yearning to a song of resignation and acceptance. The songs and performances are solid, thanks to Malin’s method of road-testing songs live and beating them into shape before recording them. Malin’s nasal Noo Yawk tones convey a sense of the street and the picture is complete.

I have to admit to being a complete fan-boy when it comes to Jesse Malin but then he’s had the same effect on a number of friends so he must be doing something right. Run out and buy this.

Ross McGibbon