Apparently there had been many people since the beginning of Jesse Johnson’s career who had wanted the former Time guitarist to make a more thoroughly guitar oriented album. A musician is not necessarily creatively bound to the demands of their admirers. After all if someone really admires someones art,why would they want them to change it? As with Prince Jesse was instrumental (pun more than intended) in bringing the sound of the rock guitar into the Minneapolis funk context. And he especially bought it to the Time’s 1990 release Pandemonium with the song “Chili Sauce” as well. Than a couple years after that the punk revival known as grunge broke out. Suddenly every rock music lover began demanding only like minded music be released and heard. The alternative era had begun-with the unspoken credibility war soon to follow. Jesse hadn’t had the easiest time either. The Time dissolved again-forcing Jesse to have to do a lot of anonymous soundtrack session playing,some of which never got released. He signed with the indie label Dinasaur Entertainment in the mid 90’s and for the first time in years eschewed the multi instrumentalist format. Teaming up with drummer Brian Edwards,back round singer Kim Cage and on one occasion former Band Of Gypsies/Hendrix alum Billy Cox on bass,Jesse put out this album in 1996 to at last fully explore his talents as a guitarist.
The title song,”My Life”,”Let Me In”,”Walk Like Me Talk”,”Shock To The System”,”Brand New Day” and “War Babies” all represent the hardest rocking songs on this album. Jesse’s ability as a guitarist is impressive as he goes from playing the amplified blues crunches to the technicolor psychedelic reverbed harmonies and melodies at a moments notice. “I Miss”,featuring Billy Cox and “Cry Like The Skies” both strong echo Jimi Hendrix’s fluttering ballad style a great deal-with cleaner,high pitched riffs and heavy reverb again. Only this time on the vocals as opposed to the instrumentation. “You Don’t Love Me The Same” is an out and out twangy modern country/western number with just a little touch of a blues attitude about it. “Mr. Heartache” is a pointed folk-rock ballad that,as with most of the lyrics here,focus in on a need for positive minded change and resolution to cynicism. “Bella Bella” is a similarly pretty folk minded affair-this time apparently a tribute to his then newborn daughter. “Bring Your Love Down Hard On Me” is straight up 12-bar blues-finding Jesse working out at his Muddy Waters-ish best. “Mokika” is a folky rhythm & blues shuffle that reminds me a bit of what KT Tunstall has done in recent years while “Nevermind Saturn Sunrise” closes the album with a psychedelic instrumental reverb guitar explosion.
Considering how ubiquitous guitar oriented music was becoming during this era? This album is expertly played with a number of instrumentally vital ideas and musical directions. The only question I have is why did Jesse Johnson even need to do this? While it has a lot of strong material,everyone already know what a great guitarist Jesse was. There really isn’t anything on this album that Lenny Kravitz hadn’t already dealt with a few years earlier. The fact Jesse’s hopeful and optimistic lyrical tone on this album stands so much in contrast to the attitude of this era speaks volumes. I feel Jesse himself was in the process of coming out of a dry spell when this album came out,so he just gave rock guitar admirers what they wanted from him while countering that impulse with his words. The pompous liner notes written by Steven Ivory also emphasize the most repulsive aspect of the “credibility wars” for me. He rails on about a “twilight zone of commercial pop/R&B”-where as he puts it,scientists in white coasts “dutifully create depressing amounts of Moog powered mutant soul that has about as much passion as a Happy Meal”. He even goes on to say “funk IS rock ‘n roll”-that “the groove” is simply rocks funky derivative. And how Jesse instinctively knows this. From this its too easy to have the impression Jesse made this album simply to survive in the restrictive musical climate of the mid 90’s. Basically if one admires the full spectrum of Jesse Johnson’s instrumental talents? This is worth picking up if you can find it for under $10.00. If your an admirer of Jesse’s work as a funk dynamo in the 80’s? This is definitely not going to be the album for you.