(Sugar Hill Records)
Born into a Memphis family of prominent heritage, young Jesse James Winchester hightailed it to Canada when he received his Vietnam draft notice. Filled with the sounds of Memphis music in his head, he started writing the songs for his first album ultimately produced by Robbie Robertson on the heels of the Band's second album. As the restless outlaw longing for his southern home, Winchester's record became a lost coda to Robertson's own musical tour through the American South. Now almost thirty years and eight albums later, Winchester may have finally, to quote the album's centerpiece, "wander[ed his] way home".
On "Gentleman of Leisure" Winchester is older and wiser, no longer the lost boy. Gone is the sense of doubt that permeated his songwriting on the records he made after his first masterpiece. In fact, the perspective from his Montreal home has further crystallized his southern roots. Showing that Memphis truly stays in the blood, Winchester's funky keyboard work and distinct voice shine - imagine the best of Lyle Lovett without the sarcasm and emotional distance. Winchester weaves soul, folk, country, and gospel as one who has been weaned on it only can. His vocals range from a comforting lilt to an Orbison-like drama depending on the needs of the song.
At times there's a sporadic inability by the Nashville session pros in keeping pace with the stylistic flux and the arrangements veer into sterile territory. However, the contributions of Steve Cropper and the Fairfield Four let true soul radiate. The other missteps can only be expected when a Memphian visits Nashville.
No longer an outlaw on the lam, Jesse Winchester resembles a modern day Atticus Finch. He fills his songs with wisdom, humility and faith. A "Gentleman", indeed.