I've commented on Jesse Colin Young a few times in the past. I have an affection for him. This is an affection that's grown, mainly, from one record, "Elephant Mountain", an album he did with his band The Youngbloods in 1969.
Such was (is) the compulsion that every time I find a Youngblood's album, or a Jesse Colin Young solo album, I didn't have I would buy them despite the fact that they have always provided diminishing returns.
That's not to say they are bad just not up to "Elephant Mountain".
On either side of that great album there is a lot of great work and interesting work.
It's hard to put on a finger on why Jesse Colin Young never had a more successful solo career (and where is the revival … he has the hipster moustache!)
I suppose it's partially because this music is home music or maybe driving music.
Even in more laid back times (like the 60s and early 70s) there was a significant percentage of the population who refused to lie down and take it all in.
You can't really imagine this being played at a nightclub (not even in the 70s at its most rustic). Likewise you can't really hear this at a coffee shop, well maybe one in California that serves Jesse's coffee brand (yes, he has a coffee plantation in Hawaii, "Jesse's Kona Coffee") with some vegan food to go with it.
This is a pity because there are some seriously relaxing vibes in his music. And, Jesse, a product of his times is not adverse to sliding a message in. Sometimes the message is blunt but more often than not it is gentle and enveloped in the good vibes of the music. It's as if he was slipping you a mickey … here are the good vibes and if you like them you can only accept them if you accept this message.
The message isn't a bad one.
It is of its time and it is one that, perhaps, could be useful today. The technology of 2015 is different to that of 1974 but how we interact with it is the same … we consume, we spend, we use, we rush, we work to earn so we can consume, and happiness is in our consumption.
Jesse's message, which is not overt but clear in the vibe (and made clearer if you draw from his other albums of the time) is, slow down, take it easy, stop, take the time to enjoy the world and let your "light shine".
It's not sexy rock and pop music for night clubs but you could see him playing at the local pub or coffee shop.
And it is perfect for chilling out at home.
Jesse was riding a high in the mid-70s he was doing well. His last album from 1973 "Song for Juli" was his solo breakthrough and had gone to #51. He capitalised on that with this album of more of the same but he also extended himself. This album is a little more experimental. The first side is a song "suite" of three interlinked songs which is quite jazzy without it becoming clinically dull like a lot of dull white guitar pop jazz of the 1970s. What stands out is the playing. His band had been with him a while and they are tight.
It is a slippery slope from here to soft rock, middle of the road singer songwriters, hack balladeers, or uninspired mundane rock and pop but Jesse Colin Young consistently proves himself smart, talented and quirky enough to keep himself from sliding into those areas of no return.
Check my other comments for biographical details.
Tracks (best in italics)
California Suite: (the following three songs)
- California Child – a jaunt, it must have been quite a time running free through California in the mid-70s with a chick on your arm.
- Grey Day – a particularly tasty jazzy interlude.
- Light Shine – The title song repeated from the Youngbloods' "Good and Dusty" album from 1971 done as a sort of torch song. The song cycle seems to me to be the cycle of a day from a jaunt, through greyness, to night and then a jaunt (and hope) revived at the end again. It is all very Van Morrison, and just as good in many ways.
- Pretty And The Fair – a melancholy song in some ways and quite errr pretty
- Barbardos – the 70s fascination with the Caribbean … and why not. I wouldn't mind being there now. Where's my pina colada?
- Motorcycle Blues – a gentle humorous rant and rave over the two wheeled mode of transport.
- The Cuckoo – (trad) – This is an old English folk song that was particularly popular during the American folk revival of the 1960s and was done by everyone. Arranged by Jesse this version moves miles away from the folk versions he must have heard as a folkie in the early 60s. This is more like Shawn Phillips. But it works up quite a gentle, other worldly frenzy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cuckoo_(song)
- Susan – I assume an ode to his wife Suzi Young (who also provides harmonies on this album), and quite a beautiful song it is.
Very good … I'm keeping it.
- Jerry Corbitt, guitarist in The Youngbloods, provides harmonies on the album
- Produced by Jesse Colin Young.