Review: Jesse Dayton – One for the Dance Halls (Stag, 2010)
The Texas-born Jesse Dayton was weaned on classic country, taking particular interest in the sounds of George Jones and Lefty Frizzell, and the firebrand individualism of Waylon, Willie and the boys. He developed a presence in the alt.country world as his 2001 release Hey Nashvegas seemed to both critique and court Music City. The album’s mainstream touches couldn’t hide lyrics more deeply personal than the typical Nashville songwriting appointment could produce, and his underlying fealty to rockabilly, honky-tonk, Cajun and latin sounds was similarly out of step with country radio hits. Though he released an album of soul-tinged country in 2004 and an album of covers in 2006, he dropped off of many country music fans’ radar. But Dayton didn’t stop making music.
In 2005 Dayton released Banjo & Sullivan: The Ultimate Collection 1972-1978 as a fictional aside to Rob Zombie’s Devil’s Rejects, went on to contribute songs to the Halloween 2 soundtrack, recorded a follow-on as Captain Clegg, and released a superb album of hardcore honky-tonk duets, Holdin’ Our Own, with Brennen Leigh. Dayton doubles-down on the honky-tonk roots on this latest album, cranking out the sort of shuffles, two-steps and waltzes that make Texas dance halls such special places to listen, dance, romance and drink away one’s problems. The opener perfectly captures the magical feeling of a Saturday night, spinning away your aches and pains, taking a smoke break in the dirt parking lot, and tipping the band (with cash or a drink) for that special song.
The rhythm section sets the pace, but Warren Hood’s fiddle and Nat Flemming’s pedal steel supercharge the performances. Dayton revs things up with the freewheeling hoe-down “Camden Town,” and though he might be a quart low on love, he hangs on to his optimism with “Pretty Girls Make the World Go ‘Round.” Things aren’t so sunny for the bloodshot morning-after of Nick Lowe’s “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” or the chilly relations of Billy Donahue’s “Back to Back.” Damon Bramblet’s “Falling Apart” is given a two-step beat that improves upon the Johnny Cash train rhythm of the original, and Bramblett’s anniversary waltz, “The Years,” is sung with an emotional quaver aside Mickey Raphael’s harmonica.
Thursday night gigs at Austin’s Broken Spoke have honed Dayton into the very thing he most admired as a child: a country singer. His voice has deepened and weathered favorably over the years, getting him closer to Dale Watson territory. Brennan Leigh provides the perfect vocal foil, particularly in duet on “Falling Apart.” The album has the arc of a live set, mixing two-steps, ballads and closing with the Western swing of “Texas Bound.” You can easily imagine the dancers taking one more whirl around the floor before heading out to their pickup trucks, the band packing up, and everyone going home feeling satisfied.