Jesse Winchester: A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble

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Jesse Winchester
A Reasonable Amount of Trouble
(Appleseed)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

By all accounts, the late Jesse Winchester was similar to the music he recorded; low key, sweet and dryly humorous, a man who exuded relaxed joy, wit, humility and honesty. His 1970 Robbie Robertson produced debut remains archetypal but since he had fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft, he could not tour in the States to support it. That didn’t stop others from recognizing his talents and soon artists as diverse as Jimmy Buffett (who contributes touching liner notes to this release), Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and even Wilson Pickett, along with dozens more, were recording his tunes.

As usual though, Winchester’s own versions, filled with subtle charm and sly humor, were usually definitive. He wasn’t particularly prolific, sometimes waiting 10 years between sets, but had been on a bit of a late life roll with 2009’s terrific Love Filling Station. He then was slowed by cancer but was in remission when he recorded this, his final album. Sadly the cancer returned shortly afterwards and he passed in April of this year.

It’s difficult to be objective about these posthumous projects, but A Reasonable Amount of Trouble would have been just as impressive even if it wasn’t Winchester’s last studio effort. Producer (and longtime Buffett associate) Mac McAnally creates an open sound, enhanced by a sparse backing band that emphasizes Winchester’s lovely melodies, reserved voice and sharply tuned lyrics. The singer/songwriter was an avid lover of doo-wop and 60s oldies, referencing those often innocent sounds in his own work (see his previous album’s “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding”) along with covering a handful on recent discs. Here he tackles “Devil or Angel,” “Rhythm of the Rain,” and “Whispering Bells”—all from four or more decades ago– in versions that are graceful, respectful and playful. Ballads such as “Neither Here Nor There” and the Latin tinged “Ghosts,” both filled with tenderness and sensitivity, can stand with his finest compositions. A few restrained rockers like “She Makes It Easy Now” (whose lyrics “outside Mobile in a mobile home” are typical of his clever, understated approach) and the Cajun influenced “Never Forget to Boogie” show that he’s in a pretty chipper mood throughout as it seemed like this was a second chance after beating his first bout of cancer.

Winchester won’t be recording any more music, but he has left us with plenty of classics and undiscovered gems with this final one a wonderful example of his humble yet impressive gifts.