Sometimes I do ask myself why I still write album reviews once in a while as I don’t work for any specialized magazines or websites doing this anymore. And, more than often, the answer is that some artists don’t get the recognition they should. Why write about a new Aerosmith, Kiss or Bon Jovi album (by the way, the latter’s sucked...) if they are supported by huge music industry labels, and they are going to sell millions of albums no matter what? I used to do that in the past, but since I don’t anymore I still do it when I think an album deserves to be listened to. The last reviews I wrote and posted on Facebook fit what I have just said. So, Yes, here’s my latest review on an album that’s more than worth listening to: Jesse Damon’s “Southern Highway”.
Jesse Damon is best known as the lead Singer and guitarist of the great melodic rock band Silent Rage, that released four albums: “Shattered Hearts” (1987), the masterpiece “Don’t Touch Me There” (1989), Still Alive (2002) and “Four Letter Word” (2008), and has been stablishing himself as a respected solo artist through the years, having released other four solo albums: “The Hand That Rocks” (2002), “Nothin’ Else Matters” (2004), “Rebel Within” (2006) and one of the best AOR albums I’ve ever had the chance to listen to, the acclaimed “Temptation In The Garden Of Eve” (2013). Al of these albums could show not only Jesse’s great skills, musicianship and songwriting, but they could also show his diversity making music, since every single mentioned relese, either with or without Silent Rage, differs from the other. He’s always been an artist who wouldn’t repeat himself, just like lots of others have always done. That’s what makes, in my opinion, him keep the old die-hard fans and get new ones.
Jesse and I met in England in 2011 and we never lost contact thanks to Facebook. I was aware of his soon-to-be musical endeavours. He even delivered co-lead, background and choir vocals on a track of my own band Nympho’s third album, the ballad “Doin’ Fine”, which wouldn’t have sounded the same if he was not on it. I’ll never have enough words to thank him for that. More recently, there was news about this new band he was in, called Electric Caravan, who was said to be a kind of bluesy rock band. I was deadly curious about how they sounded, but never really asked Jesse about anything concerning this new project. I was just seeing the news and I couldn’t wait until I could listen to some new JD music, no matter if it was as a solo artist, with Silent Rage or with his new band. The news of a new Jesse Damon album finally came out and, well, all I can say is that I was even more curious about the new music. Would Jesse Damon release another album in the vein of the great “Temptation In The Garden Of Eve”? Would he “experiment” again as he had done on his first solo albums? Would he take the road to a more “bluesy” direction? No one could really tell but the man himself.
When “Southern Highway” was finally released on April 22, 2016, I messaged Jesse on the same day so that I could order it from him. He felt how excited I was about it, and he just told me: “just remember this new CD is a bit different with is genre style”... and I finally got it last week! I personally thought it is the most interesting artwork from all of his solo albums so far, provided by Steve Brownlee, who was also responsible for the “Temptation In The Garden Of Eve” album cover. Such a great job, Steve! The “Electric Caravan Band” mystery was over – his bandmates Kurt Markham (drums) and Chris Tanori (bass) were the “hint” I needed to guess the album’s musical direction. Paul Sabu once again produced the album (needless to say that Paul’s production skills are undoubtly still one of the best in the world, simply superb!). So let me talk about this great new Jesse Damon album, called “SOUTHERN HIGHWAY” :
1 – “WHO’S YOUR DADDY”
A fun, bluesy, old school-Elvis sounding track was a nice surprise! It gets you hooked on it after the first chorus. A great album opener, with a great guitar solo, which is a mix of 50’s rock and the classic JD guitar playing style. I really love the lyrics on it – they are catchy, intelligent and fit the music perfectly. Actually, it’s a pretty simple song, but who said it’s easy to write and make a simple song sound great like that? A little more than three minutes of fun and a lot more to come.
2 – “YOU GOT ME ROCKIN’”
From its very first note, “You Got Me Rockin’” takes you back to what Jesse Damon does best, which is melodic rock, but once again with that bluesy feel. Great vocals, another very catchy song. If you close your eyes you can simply imagine for a moment that it is a song recorded by Silent Rage, which is something great by the way! The guitar solo on this one is short, but somewhat fantastic at the same time, giving the song that “melodic rock feel” to its “bluesy direction”. If you don’t love it at first, there’s something really wrong with you, seriously.
3 – “LET IT SLIDE”
The song starts as if it was a ballad, with very clever lyrics. It suddenly becomes a very bluesy mid tempo song. It’s really interesting to see this side of Jesse Damon. I can’t recall his doing anything like this one before. The amazing work of Kurt Markham and Chris Tanori make the perfect background for Jesse’s great vocals and guitar work to shine in here. What is also interesting about “Let It Slide” is that there’s no guitar solo, but the lead guitar is all over it. A really interesting track to listen to, which differs in style from the two first songs. One can feel that Jesse’s musical diversity is once again being used on all over the album. This time he just did that the right way, and his fans, old or new, won’t be disappointed.
4 – “FOOLISH TO ME”
It’s everything but a foolish song. The “party rock bluesy feel” can be heard again, and it feels great. It sounds like a story being told, once again with great lyrics. It’s almost a country rock song, and one will love it if he or she is an open-minded person. Jesse’s vocal vibe is “let’s have fun” on this one and once again, it’s impossible not to get hooked on it after its first chorus. The band creates the perfect atmosphere again to make it another perfect song. The guitar solo also shows that Jesse was having fun while recording it. WOW, it fits the concept perfectly! When you are aware that the song lasts less than four minutes, you just feel like pushing the “repeat” button of your computer, cellphone, CD or MP3 player again, just to have a good time once again. Quality and fun guaranteed on this one!!!
5 – “SOUTHERN HIGHWAY”
The album’s title track is a powerful hard rock song that somehow keeps the bluesy feel Jesse Damon wanted to give to this album. There is some really interesting and seriously admirable guitar riffs on this one. The feeling that the lyrics are an important issue regarding this album can be felt again. Another example of perfect music and lyrics combination is found. The solo is also quite interesting and powerful – there’s a change in the song building on it, and it at its end, the original song idea is back. The vocals at the end of the song add a lot of emotion to it, as if one was finally reaching its destination. “Southern Highway, traveling down the road...” is some great soundtrack for any car drive, no matter if you are heading two blocks away or south.
6 – “DEVIL DOWN THE ROAD”
Just like “Let it Slide”, “Devil Down The Road” is part of the real bluesy concept of the album. Once gain one can find intelligent lyrics, which match the “dark” atmosphere of the song perfectly. The vocal switch between soft and hard must be mentioned here. It really makes this track special. Jesse’s diversity shines once again!!! The Hendrix-like solo fits the song well and, although it’s not a song that is as strong as the first five ones on the album, it’s a great song too. Maybe it’ll just take a littlemore time for his fans to “get the message” and dig it as it should be appreciated.
7 – “BACKSTABBIN’ LOVER”
When I first got the CD, I thought it was the most interesting song title on it. As a songwriter myself, I could explore the title in as many ways as one could think of. I was specifically curious about this one... Well, the song itself is another powerful song, the perfect mix of melodic rock and blues. The guitar parts are really interesting here, and its lyrics are self-explanatory as I had first though. Some great “rough” vocal performance on this one, differing from the soft song bridge. Such a great idea to preceed the guitar solo, which is one of the best all over the album. It’s short but who needs a long guitar solo these days? The outro guitar solos are also a plus here, making “Backstabbin’ Lover” one of the finest songs on this album.
8 – “STARTING RIGHT NOW”
The bluesy feel of the album is back and the storytelling used by Jesse Damon is too. One would consider it a ballad, but I don’t. it’s another mid-tempo song, with a catchy chorus. The vocals and the guitar work on this one are quite impressive, and the band makes Jesse’s guitar solo shine again. The guitar solo in question is really different from all the others all over here, not better or worse, just different. I guess it can be taken as a compliment. As it was said before, Jesse doesn’t repeat himself. The piano part included when the song is about to finish also makes it peculiar. A good and interesting song, indeed. Listening to it I remembered right away Jesse’s own words: “just remember this new CD is a bit different with is genre style”. How better can it get?
9 – “OUTTA MY MIND”
Another powerful and bluesy rock track with a very interesting guitar riff. Jesse’s singing on this one is striking. Cool lyrics, interesting song build-progression that leads to a great chorus. Not as catchy as most of the songs, but a great tune, with a first short guitar solo that fits the song perfectly. Once again, the background vocals add something special to the song, and the second guitar solo that means business! “OuttaMy Mind” may not be everybody’s favorite track on the album, but it also one of the best songs on the CD.
10 – “JUST ANOTHER FOOL”
The last song on “Southern Highway” starts as another powerful rocker, with some great slide guitar on it. Another song that reminds you of Jesse Damon’s music with Silent Rage. I really like these lyrics too. The chorus is, at the same time, catchy, powerful and bluesy – one can only understand what I mean giving it a listen, or so I guess. You can’t expectless than a great guitar solo, which is what you’ll find here. Short but straight to the point. Jesse’s a great guitar player, and there’s no need for him to show it off with either long or Oe-million note guitar solos. That has been proved all over this album. It’s another one ofmy favorite tracks off the CD. It’s a great song to end a great album.
In short, Jesse Damon has proved again he can do as well on his own as he did with Silent Rage. No matter what style the man plays, he’s just awesome at what he does – Rock ‘N’ Roll, Melodic Rock, AOR, hard Rock, Glam Rock, Blues, Country, you name it. An artist with an undeniable reuputation as one of the greatest personalities in the business. “Southern Highway” is a five-star album without any doubt.