I enjoy many styles of country music, but if I had to pick my favorite it would be Bakersfield country. So when I heard about Jesse Daniel and his style of country being Bakersfield, I obviously had to check him out. And after listening to his new album Rollin’ On, I’m pretty happy I did. Opening track “Tar Snakes” is heavy on the steel guitar, an easy-going song about a man hitting the open highway to forget about his ex. It’s your classic country song with the kind of sunny melody that let me know I was in for an album that was going to do Bakersfield country right.
“If You Ain’t Happy Now (You Never Will Be)” is about enjoying the here and now, not worrying about the past or future. It’s a simple and catchy tune with a good message about appreciating what you have in your life. It’s another no-frills, instantly enjoyable song thanks to it’s infectious melody by producers Tommy Detamore and Daniel. When I first heard the album’s title track I said to myself (no joke), “This is some Dwight Yoakam shit.” And this is a great thing of course! The prominent guitars and piano make it a dead ringer for something straight out of Yoakam’s catalog. Also I have to point out that I know it feels like I’m not “reviewing” these opening songs that deeply. But it’s hard to put into words really what these songs get right. I guess the best way I would describe it is you know it when you hear it that these songs just capture what a traditional country song is supposed to sound like in terms of melody and vocals.
“St. Claire’s Retreat” is about a man running off to the mountains and leaving behind his love. But he realizes it to be a mistake, as he loses his love in the process. I feel like this song could have used more emotion, as the story feels too vague emotionally for me to really get into as I’m listening. “Champion” on the other hand immediately hooks me with it’s story about a mammoth of a man who strikes fear into those around him, but also has a sad backstory and ultimately a sad ending. I particularly enjoy how Daniel describes this man named Champion in great detail, as I can vividly picture him. This line in particular struck me: “His hands were big as baseball gloves and fists were solid rock.” On top of that it has a memorable Tex Mex sound that adds even more texture and depth to the song.
I love how Daniel throws a little surprise instrumental track in “Chickadee” in the middle of the album, as typically these are expected at the end. It’s a great instrumental, a tasty blend of guitars and fiddles. I wish more artists would put instrumentals onto their albums (although I understand why because it’s not “consumer friendly”). “Mayo and the Mustard” is my least favorite track on the album, as the song’s hook just doesn’t make sense to me (“keep it between the mayo and the mustard’). Not to mention the story of the song is predictable, as the narrator of the song starts out a young man receiving advice from an older gentleman and by the end becomes the latter bestowing advice. I’ve heard much better versions of this song.
“Bringin’ Home the Roses” is the kind of funny and cheesy country love song I can always get behind. The song is about a man spotting another man at the bar holding flowers and wise cracking to him “How ’bout the weather?” And the man with the flowers hilariously deadpanning “You know pal that ain’t what’s on my mind.” The latter reasons that flowers should at least help him get into his house where his angry wife awaits. The former eventually finds himself in the same predicament. Again, it’s cheesy of course. But this is the type of cheese that’s endearing and clever.
“Sam” is about someone wondering what’s happened to a long lost friend that likes to run the road due to his reckless lifestyle. It’s another simple country song that just works, thanks in large part to the nostalgic retelling of small stories the man experienced with Sam in his life and the reflectiveness in Daniel’s voice as he delivers the hook. Daniel draws inspiration from his life and playing on the road on “Old at Heart.” In his early years he spent time in prison and dealing with various addictions, leading to the haggard inner soul he has despite his outer youthfulness that deceives those out in the crowd. It’s a cool way for Daniel to tell his story to the listener without being so on the nose. And of course the fiddle-driven sound is sweet on the ears.
Daniel’s partner Jodi Lyford joins him on “Only Money, Honey.” The song is about money being less important than love and of course this is quite cliché. It’s certainly no different than any of the other thousands of country songs along these same lines. But it’s nice to see Lyford featured on a track, as she’s been an important part of Daniel’s recovery and life, in addition to helping him write several tracks on this record and having a nice voice. The album closes on a strong note with “Son of the San Lorenzo.” Daniel opens with pondering about fake news and stories before moving to his own story. He recalls his roots, the good and the bad, but ultimately hopes he ends up back there some day. It’s a song that does nostalgia right, not painting everything with rose-colored glasses and harping on memories, but rather a bright hopefulness of return that lives on in Daniel’s heart.
Jesse Daniel does Bakersfield country proper justice on Rollin’ On. While it has a couple of just okay spots that mar it from being a fantastic album, it mostly shines throughout with it’s classic country themes and a traditional country sound that fully embraces the roots of the genre in an enjoyable, fresh-feeling way. The best way I would describe this album to someone is I would liken it to fried chicken and mash potatoes. I’ve had it hundreds of times and from many different places, but it never gets old when you eat some great fried chicken and mash potatoes. And this album is certainly a great one.