Sometimes my life feels like one long exercise in reconnaissance. Like discovering Jesse Malin this last week. The guy’s been at it since the 1980s in various bands and as a respected solo artist since 2002 but he’s a brand new artist to me. And I’m finding him a pretty exciting find. So let’s get introduced to the fine art of Jesse Malin with a song from each of his eight albums of original material.
With titles like “Queen of the Underworld,” “Wendy,” and “Almost Grown” it’s not hard to nail the influences all over Malin’s 2002 debut album, The Fine Art of Self Destruction. It’s Springsteen for sure, but there’s all those other great Americana songwriters too, people like Warren Zevon and Tom Petty, maybe a bit of The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg. The record is chock full of should-be hits to my ears but I think “Riding on the Subway” has a special chemistry going on in the chorus. 2004’s The Heat opens dramatically with some strikingly sibilant guitar work on “Mona Lisa,” a slow-burn ear-worm that showcases Malin’s talent for clever turns of phrase. From 2007’s Glitter in the Gutter it was toss up between the obvious single and album opener “Don’t Let Them Take You Down” and deep cut “NY Nights.” But I went with the latter with its more subtle, almost pensive feeling of urgency in the chorus. By 2010 Malin had a band of sorts cobbled together for Love It To Life, dubbed The St. Mark’s Social, and it makes a difference to the sound. “St. Mark’s Sunset” rocks on with a gleeful abandon that sounds both a little bit Pogues and a little bit Titus Andronicus.
Five years later Malin was back doing the solo thing, releasing two albums of new material in one year. New York Before the War sure sounds like a hit record, with Tom Petty-ish should-be chart climbers like “Addicted” and more earthy Springsteen-esque numbers like “Oh Sheena.” Outsiders has a bit more of a rave up quality and here I’m loving “San Francisco” with its languid pace and breathtaking juxtaposition of instrumental sounds. Lucinda Williams produced 2019’s Sunset Kids and it’s another winner. My personal fave is “Chemical Heart” with its killer organ backing. Malin’s latest is lovely double album, 2021’s Sad and Beautiful World, featuring an exquisite cover of Tom Petty’s “Crawling Back to You” amid a wide range of styles on his own material. Actually, there’s a lot of Petty influence on tracks like “Dance on my Grave” and “Lost Forever.” But my fave on the record is the sprightly, Graham Parker-ish “State of the Art.”
Malin seems to be just getting bigger and bigger, with positive reviews in Rolling Stone and all the usual music industry press. But there’s still time to say you knew him when. Get in on the ground floor of his fan base with a visit to his website and Bandcamp pages.