Lonesome Onry and Mean: Jesse Winchester and Ian Hunter Prove 70 Is the New 30
Those of us who read Tom Friedman's July 28 New York Times column about 59 being the new 30 like it was a lost edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls should be cheered by the musical efforts of two 70-year-olds who just keep on keepin' on. So far this year, both Jesse Winchester and Ian Hunter have issued brilliant albums. The albums are two different yet totally valid interpretations of what American song is and can be. LOM's significant other loves great voices, and she was beside herself as we listened to opening track "O What a Thrill." She's a huge Raul Malo fan, and Winchester's song was one of the centerpieces of Malo's recent album. Her comment: "I just want to know who in Raul Malo's camp heard the demo of that song and said, 'This will be perfect for Raul'? Because listening to Winchester's songbird version, it's hard to imagine the production that Malo was able to bring to his cut of it."
Love Filling Station features Winchester's trademark folksy approach coupled to a total grasp of the traditions of southern soul. His version of Stand By Me is as Ray Charles as a Yankee white boy can get. If you don't like this track, check your Humanity Meter. While most of the tracks are fairly quiet, the better to feature Winchester's weathered alto, on wear me out he sounds like he's channeling J.J. Cale through an old Staples Singers record, like Tony Joe White with a belly full of Happy Times. Winchester has always had that Mark-Twain-on-the-Mississippi cadence and a feel for music with a decadent Southern swing that just screams taffeta dresses, mint juleps and Tennessee Williams. There isn't a weak track on Love Filling Station, which should rank with the best singer-songwriter albums of the year.
Hunter, best known as the main man behind Mott the Hoople, is simply the Bionic Rocker, a rock and roll panther on the loose who can stop on a dime and cross over to singer-songwriter intimacy without losing the audience in the transition. He looks like he's 50, and on his new Man Overboard he's writing like he's still hanging out in the darkest alleys of the world and the soul. The album all has the snap and attitude of the brash young men of Mott the Hoople.
LOM's two favorite tracks are "Arms and Legs" and "Up and Running." "Legs" is a monster ballad with an unforgettable hook while "Up and Running" sounds like Chuck Berry harnessed to Mott the Hoople after a dose of Red Bull and bad attitude. Had these songs been written in the '50s or '60s, they'd be in 45-minute rotation on oldies stations across the solar system. The lyrics and music are unforgettable and unshakable. But Hunter is no one-trick (or two-trick) pony. "The Great Escape" mines the great Nick Lowe-ish traditions of English pub-rock, while "Man Overboard" is straight up singer-songwriter fare that demands undivided attention not only for its strong emotional content but its unblinking commentary on the current socio-economic situation.
Anyway, LOM doesn't know what kind of vitamins, supplements, yoga or tantric regimen these guys are doing, but Tom Friedman and us both, seeing that big 70 coming at us through the fog quicker than we want, are going to keep an eye on these two guys and maybe learn their secret.
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