One of the best songwriters of the 1960s and early '70s, with an unassuming style that managed to sound like Fred Neil, J.J. Cale, Jim Croce, Randy Newman, Leonard Cohen, and early Tom Waits by turns (and sometimes all at once), Jesse Winchester would have been as well known and regarded as any of these had history not swept him from Louisiana, where he was born, to Montreal, Canada, where he took up residence in exile (like thousands of other young men at the time) to avoid the Vietnam War. Winchester was working gigs as a lounge pianist when his draft notice came, and while he joined a couple of local bands after his flight to Canada, his life as a musician had been torn apart.
From the opening vocals of the almost rockabilly "Club Manhattan," the undeniably excellent songwriting of Jesse Winchester makes its way back into our collective psyche. Backed by an unparalleled group of musicians, and with guest appearances from such musical dignitaries as the Fairfield Four, Jerry Douglas, Steve "The Colonel" Cropper, and Vince Gill, Winchester has assembled a highly enjoyable album, filled with the same magic his past releases all possessed. The kind of musical and lyrical genius that has caused dozens of artists to record his music gets into some funky blues territory with "Sweet Little Shoe," and downright beautiful with "That's What Makes You Strong," featuring the lap steel guitar work of Jerry Douglas, who also acts as producer for the album.
As the title suggests, making a virtue of necessity had always been one of Jesse Winchester's goals, and by the time of the release of his third album, the American expatriate had gone ahead and assumed Canadian citizenship. This seemed to free him to comment explicitly on his antiwar exile in "Pharaoh's Army" and especially a version of the old campaign song "Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt" updated with new lyrics: "In the year of 1967, as a somewhat younger man, the call to bloody glory came, and I would not raise my hand."
Ian Matthews left Fairport Convention in 1969, and while the U.K.'s greatest folk-rock band was beginning to reinvent itself in a more traditional and very British direction, Matthews began digging deeper into the American influences that had marked his old band's first era. Later That Same Year, the second album from Ian's new group Matthews Southern Comfort (it was released in late 1970, a mere six months after their debut, hence the title), is a beautiful set of songs that splits the difference between West Coast folk-rock and early country-rock, with Gordon Huntley's pedal steel and Roger Coulam's lending an air of sunny sadness that dovetails beautifully with Matthews' silky tenor. Matthews wrote three of the songs on Later That Same Year, and they rank with the album's finest moments, especially the ethereal harmonies of "And Me" and the graceful simplicity of "My Lady," but Matthews also borrows some excellent material from American writers, including a cover of Neil Young's "Tell Me Why" that remains faithful while creating a languid mood of its own.
A talk show with Elvis Costello interviewing other musicians could have been unbearably precious, but Costello is such a formidable songwriter, and so obviously bright and quick, that he keeps his equilibrium even with three of rock’s biggest stars: Bruce Springsteen, and U2’s Bono and The Edge. The highlight of the second season of Spectacle: Elvis Costello with . . . is doubtless the two shows with Springsteen. In the first, Costello reaches back to the songwriter’s first two records, prompting the Boss to remember his early days, when he and his band hustled for work in bars along the Jersey shore. Nils Lofgren and Roy Bittan join Springsteen onstage for "Wild Billy’s Circus Story," a song from his second album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.