Jesse Smith didn’t have the best year last year; he was mugged while helping strangers in Atlanta. You couple that with the title of the album, Leaving Atlanta, and you figure that the record might be a bit of a bummer, giving us songs about one man’s struggle to leave his favorite town. However, all tragedy aside, Gentleman Jesse seems reinvigorated, leaving us with his best offering to date.
“Eat Me Alive” in its title prepares the listener for what one would assume is a condemnation of Atlanta, and for all intents and purposes it might just be that, but Jesse doesn’t seem willing to give in, singing “it’s as good a place as any to try and survive.” Whatever his feelings, he’s going to stick it out in Atlanta, clearly having given birth to some of Jesse’s best tracks. On the whole, the record’s filled with seemingly desperate titles such as “I’m a Mess” or “We Got to Get Out of Here,” but there’s something else taking root in Jesse’s songwriting, helping move him beyond simple power-pop.
One example of such a change is the album’s stand out track “Careful What You Wish For,” which is as close to a ballad as Smith has written to date. Indeed, there’s jangling guitars aplenty, but the inflection in his vocals gives listeners a glimpse into a more introspective Jesse. Personally, I can listen to that chorus line over and over again. There’s also “Take It Easy on Me,” which is another slow moving song, but it’s also one of the tracks that really provides you with a look into the soul of Gentleman Jesse. At first it looks almost like a love song, and I suppose that it is, but with the personal history public knowledge, it almost seems as if he’s asking for the city of Atlanta to show him a kinder side–the side that made him fall in love with it in the first place.
Leaving Atlanta will keep long-time followers pleased throughout, leaving us with plenty of power-pop goodness, albeit on a more serious note. You’ll find a sing-a-long foot stomper in “What Did I Do.” It’s the classic sound you’ve come to know from Jesse, making way for the more potent track that follows, “You Give Me Shivers.” While the song blasts off with a jittery burst, it settles into a fast paced tune of glorious power-pop that makes being a fan of the genre so enjoyable. With these sorts of songs, and a bit of introspection, we’re seeing a nice evolution from Mr. Smith.
Gentleman Jesse has been playing music in various outfits for some time now, but this is by far the best he’s sounded on record. Leaving Atlanta benefits from a few subtle stylistic changes that change the mood of the listener, providing an escape from the slight monotony you found on his first record. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his life, and possible move as suggested in the title, it’s clear that Atlanta’s been great for Jesse, leading him to write his best collection of tunes to date.
Download:Gentleman Jesse – Eat Me Alive [MP3]