(blu elan Records)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Everything about this short, ten track album — from the title and quickie artwork to its track listing — screams “stopgap release.” Since Jesse Dayton couldn’t come up with enough original material, here are some covers of tunes he likes, to keep his name in the marketplace. We’ve seen this film before … until you push play.
Dayton is just too talented and professional to drop anything second rate, or worse slapdash, into his impressive catalog. Selections that range from recognizable inspirations on the singer-songwriter’s vibrant country-rocking style such as Neil Young, ZZ Top and Jackson Browne to less obvious sources like AC/DC, Elton John and even the Cars, provide both a window into the rugged Texas player’s mind and a hell of an enjoyable ride. After all, this is a guy with a diverse career that includes sitting in for Billy Zoom in the band X, recording zydeco with the legendary Rockin’ Dopsie and backing Glen Campbell, among many other highlights.
Dayton’s love of punk appears in a hot, twanged-up, locomotive version of the Clash’s “Bankrobber,” his harder rocking side is evident in AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie,” played like a ZZ Top boogie, and his Brit pub roots push a tough take on Dr. Feelgood’s “She Does it Right” into the red. Sweet, soulful approaches to Neil Young’s “Harvest,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” and Elton’s “Country Comforts” display his country and folk influences. And his inner singer-songwriter has clearly been affected by Bruce Springsteen as he takes Nebraska’s sparse “State Trooper” down to the swamp.
But the disc’s coolest and most off-the-wall moment is transforming the Cars’ new-wave power pop gem “Just What I Needed” into a George Jones styled honky-tonk barroom classic. Better still, he plays it straight, making the tune sound like it was always meant to be performed in this country arrangement.
The appropriately titled disc is over in a flash and while these seem like tunes Dayton might lob in as an encore to one of his sweat-soaked shows, it’s far from a tossed-off release. His band is tight, the arrangements are inventive and Dayton sings these songs with as much reverence as intensity.
Regardless of Mixtape Vol. 1’s origins, it’s a fun, dynamic set. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of a series of likeminded follow-ups.