Thursday, April 21, 2011

Burton Jespersen- The Ride

Burton Jespersen has long been a part of the New Mexico musical landscape. Originally from Chicago, Jespersen came to Taos from Los Angeles where he had lived as a teenager.  He first surfaced as the lead singer for The Refrigerators, a popular Taos band. Although in 1982, he would inexplicably, leave that band to become the lead singer for The Victims.  After that came a succession of other bands and a solo career that took him around the world.   Along his journey, Burton has also been involved in theater, both on the stage and film. In 2007 he landed the lead role in "The Mind of Henry Lime" an independent film written and directed by Mike Glover. Some of us older types may recall  Mike as  member of  The Philisteens, an Albuquerque new wave band from the early 80's. Glover along with Robyn Rosenkrantz (who produced the film) form the globe-trotting musical duo, Bright Blue Gorilla.  By choice or circumstance, after thirty plus years of touring and playing, Jespersen's recorded output is mighty slim. Which makes "The Ride" a real treat, the album features well crafted and expertly played music from some top notch musicians from both Los Angeles and Taos. It includes two of his strongest compositions (Tomorrow and The Ride) along with some well chosen cover songs.  Amazingly "The Ride" is Burton's first and only solo album, recorded in 2003, it was produced by Marty Grebb.  
"Perpetual Blues Machine" is the most blues oriented track on the album  "You had grace, you had charm, you had me hanging on your arm" Burton does Keb' Mo's original justice, it also sets the mood for the rest of the album "When I found out you're a fake, you reared up and bit me like a snake." The troubles, men have with women, make for some great blues songs.  "The Ride", is a country blues number that features some great slide guitar  "Everybody's talkin about the way they feel, lookin at life like it's some kind of deal." Burton's voice is in fine form "I ain't expecting you to see my side, you might think that i'm a little fried, that's ok it's just one more night and I'm just along for the ride." His interpretation of Dylan's "You're a Big Girl Now" is right on the money. Burton filters out much of the bitterness, making it less condescending and spiteful than Dylan's version. Throughout this album, Burton's phrasing, and the music, conjure up Bob Dylan during his Blood on the Tracks period.  I've seen reviews the size of doctoral dissertations written about Bob Dylan and Blood on the Tracks. However, when you cut to the chase it's about the residual damage of love falling out.  A common theme for many singers and Burton is not an exception, however it's a subject he addresses without anger or ill will.  Johnny Horton's "Shotgun Boogie" gets the Jerry Lee Lewis treatment, complete with boogie woogie piano and honking sax. Reminding us that Burton can rock with the best of them. Darden Smith's "Clatter and Roll" is a plainspoken tale of an average man caught in circumstances beyond his control. Burton's aching voice evokes images of Austin street scenes and miles of train tracks as this mood piece unwinds.
On the rockin'  "Tennessee Plates" he sticks close to John Hiatt's original version, "We landed in Memphis like original sin." although, Burton does give it a little more twang than Hiatt. I actually prefer this version, since I've never been  a big fan of John Hiatt's vocal mannerisms. "Tomorrow" is a song Burton wrote when he was 26 years old, over the years it's become his signature tune.  "I'll wake up to another day, just keep pushing on, trying to make my way...until tomorrow."  This version is worlds apart from the stark acoustic version posted on You Tube. Here he's backed by strings, piano, slide guitar and organ, giving it a stately classic feel. Although "Neon Moon" doesn't seem like a logical final track, it does tie things up very nicely. Burton reworks Brooks and Dunn's smash hit by stripping off it's cosmopolitan country glitz and transforming it into a Hi-Lo country (i.e. Taos) style country ballad. Burton Jespersen has grown into this style, where  as a younger man, he might have been driven by the quest for success, he now seems well settled and world weary. Burton is in fine voice on this album, his unique and eloquent vocal style gives the music a level of remarkable emotional impact. It's hard to argue with an album this beautifully produced, played and sung, so I won't. Just like a good friend, "The Ride" is the perfect accompaniment for life on the proverbial lonesome highway.