Gentleman Jesse – “Leaving Atlanta”

Rock & roll torchbearer Gentleman Jesse has triumphantly returned with Leaving Atlanta, a blazing fireball set of thirteen blistering tunes chocked full of swagger, boogie, earworm hooks and immensely winning garage-pop confection.

This time around Jesse has dropped the & His Men moniker, but no confidence or musicianship was lost in the name change. Leaving Atlanta fires on all cylinders with brassy self-assurance equal to, or perhaps more than, 2008′s outstanding self-titled debut. The sort of high you get listening to a Gentleman Jesse album is the best kind: all the boozy energy, wild nights and made memories without any semblance of regret or hangover. Those years spent tearing through Gentleman Jesse & His Men and now the opportunity to spin Leaving Atlanta on heavy rotation can get you blissfully dumbfounded at the audacity of this guy to come seemingly from nowhere, knocking out song after song right on par with the absolute greats of the ’60s and ’70s. Before the hand-wringing starts, know right up front Gentleman Jesse is no simple revivalist. Jesse Smith writes and plays these songs like his DNA is coded in vinyl and melodies. He’s not rehashing decades-old 45s; he’s living them.

Legend has it Jesse has been through hell and back since all the promise and perfection of that debut album. He named the new album Leaving Atlanta as both an ode and a stab at his hometown. The story goes Atlanta and that welcoming Southern hospitality is what started his downward slide off the musical radar. Apparently, Jesse stopped to help a couple of Atlanta’s finest citizens change a tire for which they thanked him by beating him to a pulp with a table leg. That incident left Jesse hospitalized and bed-ridden for a month. In the meantime, the economy tanked and left parts of Atlanta a shithole of a place to live. His father and a few close friends all died between that time and the release of Leaving Atlanta, so when you listen to the triumphant and addictive garage-rock gold bookends of “Eat Me Alive” and “We Gotta Get Out of Here,” you’ll know Jesse’s not bullshitting when he stands beside the LEAVING ATLANTA wooden plank with two luggage cases, a guitar and a rifle on the album’s cover.

“Eat Me Alive” kicks off the album with a furious rhythm, a triumphant harmonica blast and Jesse’s late ’70s Elvis Costello/Joe Strummer cannon-fire delivery making damn sure every words rings crystal clear all along the way. He shouts “it’s as good a place as any to try to survive. So if you keep your head down and you push on through, you just make it to the the other side!” By the time song ends, it’s as if you’ve heard the most rebellious kissoff anthem to have growled from your speakers in ages. It’s a brawny bit of Springsteenesque “Badlands” 2.0, “Pump it Up” and “London Calling” rolled into one, and you can’t help but get goosebumps from the satisfaction Jesse adores all the same favorites you do. He sounds almost as if he is them, but goddamn if he doesn’t sound unmistakably like himself too. If there’s justice in the world, millions will be begging to hear Gentleman Jesse as much as the frenzied Brits clamored to see The Clash and The Jam or the Minneapolis faithful raged until Westerberg became a deity.

Over the years, every time I’ve listened to Gentleman Jesse, I can’t help but scratch my skull in wonder of why more bands don’t tread a similar path. Maybe they all want to reinvent the music wheel.  Maybe they want to seem academic, hip, avant-garde, unclassifiable or mysterious. Whatever the reasons they decide to do their thing and not the thing Gentleman Jesse does could hardly mean less to me; they wouldn’t do it nearly as loud, blissfully and magnificently as Gentleman Jesse does. After two listens, I tweeted that listening to Leaving Atlanta restored my belief that Gentleman Jesse is the most underrated rock & roll man in America. God only knows what kind of praise I’ll throw his way after my 100th listen, which given the pop perfection of the album, may only be weeks away. Here’s to Gentleman Jesse and his new collection of essential rock & roll songs primed to be your new favorite album, your go-to jukebox head-turners and your most delightfully enslaving obsession should you take a chance on him.

Leaving Atlanta is available now courtesy of Douchemaster Records.


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