Alt-country has always had a reputation as being Americana’s brattish, bastard cousin. Despite having somewhat died a death in recent years, one of its trailblazers, Jesse Malin, still continues to make exciting and relevant music to this day.
Having been in bands since he was twelve years old, beginning with Heart Attack in the early ’80s, before becoming the frontman of seminal glam-punks D Generation until 1999, it wasn’t until 2001 when Malin went solo and unleashed a more alt-country sound. Assisted by his friend Ryan Adams on production duties, his debut ‘The Fine Art of Self Destruction’ was released to a wave of critical acclaim.
The record itself is a modern masterpiece. From the melodic opening bars to lead single ‘Queen of the Underworld,’ it is a masterclass in honest songwriting and wonderful melodies. Malin obviously didn’t understand the term “difficult second record” as follow-up ‘The Heat’ continued to the same standard.
During his career, the New Yorker has never stood still and not once has he compromised any artistic integrity. Covers records tend to go either way, but Malin’s release ‘On Your Sleeve’ was an unbridled success. For a musician who unashamedly wears his influences on his sleeve (sometimes quite literally, due to his fondness of band logo patches), the title was apt, and there is unbridled joy in hearing his versions of fellow New Yorkers The Hold Steady and The Ramones, as well as The Clash and The Rolling Stones.
Then there are his live shows. Malin has always been an engaging performer and commands a stage as much as he does an audience. He dishes out hilariously witty anecdotes about life on the road willy nilly, and can regularly be found performing amongst the crowd, getting his audiences to sit on the floor, or leading his band offstage while still playing. The Jesse Malin live experience is something to behold, also helped by the fact that he always plays with a watertight band behind him (more often than not including the tremendous Cat Popper on bass).
Jesse Malin is a weathered survivor of a lifetime in what he refers to as “this business called show,” and has managed to consistently release interesting material without any real need for drastic reinvention. Delving into his consistently excellent back catalogue is a delight.
The Career – Malin’s prolific solo career consists of seven full-length records, one live album and four EPs, alongside numerous collaborations with little-known artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams and Green Day.
Key release – ‘The Fine Art of Self Destruction.’ An alt-country classic. The fact that Malin still tours the record in full regularly, with fans consistently flocking to see him play it, is testament to its lasting impact.