Jesse Winchester (1944-2014): An Appreciation

So, have all your passionate violins play a tune for a Tennessee kid …

Jesse Winchester has passed away after a long battle with cancer, just over a month shy of his seventieth birthday. Raised on the fertile musical soil of Mississippi and Tennessee, Winchester’s career began when Robbie Robertson took him under his wing and produced his self-titled debut album, which was released in 1970.

With Robbie Robertson playing guitar and Levon Helm sitting in on drums, the album stands as a masterpiece of early Americana. Even more than the excellent musicianship, however, it’s the compositions that have firmly stood the test of time.

Winchester infused his blend of country music with a rare poetic sense and elegant lyricism. To quote just one example, in his bitter-sweet ballad “Yankee Lady” he sang of “an autumn walk on a country road and a million flaming trees: I was feeling uneasy ‘cause there was winter in the breeze.”

With the same poignant word-painting he turned his song about “Biloxi” — another highlight of his debut album — into one of the most moving piano ballads ever written, tinged with nostalgic yearning and beautifully sung.

Jesse Winchester’s later albums are perhaps less well-known but he never lost his great gifts: a poetic pen that excellent at country ballads full of dignified and heart-felt emotion, and a soulful, intimate voice, comforting even when you sense the half-hidden pain. The passing of this eloquent, graceful and accomplished musician and songwriter is a great loss to the world of music.

Here’s hoping that, in his own words, he’s “literally waltzing on air” now at some “brand new Tennessee Waltz.”

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Kasper Nijsen

When not submerged in translator's duties both tedious and necessary, Kasper Nijsen enjoys exploring the less-visited shores of popular music and writing about his exploits for various online magazines. Though born at the tail-end of the 1980s, his musical interests are often found to have strong links with '60s and '70s rock and pop music. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.