Renaissance man Jesse Dayton never slows down. Between writing his first book, directing movies, and touring all over the world, he still manages to carve out a little time in the studio. Thirteen years ago, his covers album, South Austin Sessions, was my real introduction, not only to his music, but to some damn fine songwriters. His newest release, Mixtape Volume 1 may prove a good introduction to his style and influences to many – but, to me, it’s an alternate history version of my dad’s Spotify playlist. And that’s not just a good thing, it’s a great thing.
Mixtape Volume 1 (and I can’t wait for future volumes) strikes me as a concept album–a re-imagining of the vast expanse of musical styles from the Seventies–everything from the singer/songwriters to the punks. Are there bands I wish were included? Absolutely. Are there other covers he’s done that would fit right in with this project? Absolutely. Do I feel like I’m listening to the overdone Clear Channel standards of the era? Absolutely not.
Imagine, if you will, a world where ZZ Top had Lil’ Buck Sinegal as a second guitarist (“She’s a Heartbreaker”). A world where the Cars were inspired by Ray Price (“Just What I Needed”). A world where ZZ Top themselves take on AC/DC (“Whole Lotta Rosie”). This is the landscape of Mixtape Volume 1.
Of course, any Renaissance man knows to surround himself with the best support crew, and Matt Hubbard, Chris Rhoades, and Kevin Charney all shine. Charney’s stellar drumming powers the getaway car for a twisted take on “Bankrobber” by the Clash that made even this Clash fan sit up and take notice. Although “Country Comfort” is originally by Elton John, I’ve always preferred Rod Stewart’s rendition and bassist Rhoades definitely evokes the spirit of the oft-forgotten Ronnie Lane on this track. Surprisingly exceeding the Johnny Cash version, the Gordon Lightfoot classic “If You Could Read My Mind” will best be experienced live, where the sheer expressiveness of Dayton’s voice will be able to cut past the swelling orchestration and grab you by the softest parts of your soul.
Every Renaissance man has his area of highest expertise, though, and Dayton’s is his singing and guitar playing. For those who like Neil Young’s lyrics, but “just can’t” with his voice – give Dayton’s George Jones-inflected version of “Harvest” a spin. Somehow, that slow stroll sound amplifies the heartbreak in the lyrics. Dr. Feelgood’s “She Does It Right” definitely goes to 11 in these more-than-capable hands. Somewhere between these two extremes, Jackson Browne’s “Redneck Friend” would definitely be the “Feel Good Hit of the Year” in this alternate universe.
Returning to our actual timeline, Dayton closes the album with Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” revamped to better suit the current landscape of America. Instead of the quiet desperation of the early Eighties original, this version is frenetic and turbo-charged. I could probably be forgiven for taking it as a political statement right up there with Dayton’s own “Charlottesville.” Bottom line, all the songs on Mixtape Volume 1 are updated with skill and love. These songs twang and “swang” and definitely “brang it!”
Someone beam me to the planet where these are the originals, please!
– Marie Braden