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."