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Gentleman Jesse & His Men

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Album Review

The cover artwork to Jesse Smith's first album with his combo Gentleman Jesse & His Men visually quotes the sleeve to Elvis Costello's 1978 masterpiece This Year's Model, which is a pretty nervy move for a musician whose music is so clearly modeled after the energetic pop of the new wave era. But Smith has plenty of talent to go along with that chutzpah, and at its best, Gentleman Jesse sounds like a lost classic from the era that gave us Costello, the Jam, and Squeeze. Smith has a rare gift for writing bright, hooky pop tunes that also have plenty of rock & roll muscle, and he can sing them with the right blend of spunk and yearning to make them work. Smith and his band — Craig Johnson on guitar, Dustin Nigro on bass, and Dave Rahn on drums — bring the songs to high-spirited life and they're just smart enough to know this isn't punk rock; unlike many younger acts enamored of the first graduating class of new wave, they understand that you need to play this with energy, but that doesn't mean roaring though at breakneck speed, and the sense of restraint not only gives this the right period flavor but lets the melodies soar even higher. "Highland Crawler" kicks off the album with a guitar riff Nick Lowe himself would have been proud to borrow, "All I Need Tonight" is such a perfect "lookin' for a cool girl" tune that it's hard to believe it isn't a cover, "If I Can See You" is a glorious blast of passion and urgent romanticism, and their version of the Equals' "I Get So Excited" is a masterstroke. It's tempting to call Gentleman Jesse the best 1977 album of 2008, but Smith and his bandmates aren't stuck in the past, they're just guys who understand a classic style and play it with fresh energy and skill, and if you dig a great pop song played by someone who means it, this album is well worth your time.


Formed: Atlanta, GA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Jesse Smith leads a double life — when he isn't playing bass with Atlanta's fast, loud, and frantic punk band the Carbonas, he's the leader of Gentleman Jesse & His Men, a combo that revels in the bright, energetic power pop sounds of the early new wave era. Smith first made his name on the Atlanta music scene as a member of the indie rock bands Paper Lions and Some Soviet Station, citing bands like the Birthday Party and Drive Like Jehu as early inspirations, but he became dissatisfied...
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Gentleman Jesse & His Men, Gentleman Jesse & His Men
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