It’s been nearly 40 years since Jesse Winchester released his first album, a spare and loose-limbed masterpiece right down to the gaunt cover shot of the exiled Winchester giving the camera a haunted stare. Looking at that picture and hearing that record’s anguished songs of pained longing on, it was hard to imagine that Winchester would ever be where he is four decades later. Against all odds, Love Filling Station sounds like the work of a happy, contented man.
Winchester’s first album since 1999, Love Filling Station features sharp backing from Jerry Douglas on lap steel guitar, Andy Leftwich on fiddle, and others. Nice credits on paper, certainly, though in practice, you hardly notice the musical setting. The most striking feature here is Winchester’s voice, which the years have mellowed from his old jittery nervousness to a relaxed, honeyed croon.
It’s a perfect instrument for interpreting songs, and Winchester obliges with three ace covers, most notably Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”. But there’s nobody who can write and sing self-deprecation like Winchester. The standout track is “Bless Your Foolish Heart”, an original with the sort of punchline setup you hear a lot of on country radio: “Look at the quarterback and the mayor’s son, and the smartest guy in school/You could have had the best and brightest, and you chose the biggest fool/You may be too good for me, but you can’t be too smart/Not if you love me, girl, bless your foolish heart.”
Bless Jesse Winchester’s foolish heart, too.
Jesse Winchester performs “It’s A Shame About Him” from Love Filling Station in Savannah, GA, 11-08