The first time Jesse Dayton came to MV’s attention was the brilliant album he made with Samantha Fish last year, while the subsequent gigs were a lot of fun.

It was only then that you investigated his back story, and you saw just what an extensive career he’d had. “The Hard Way” indeed.

And that’s the opening song here on “The Hard Way Blues” – it’s typical of the class here too,  given that Dayton is a superb blues player, we shouldn’t be surprised at the amount of blues stylings which are played. “Night Brain” might be acoustic-based but for the insomniacs who can’t switch off, there’ll be a wry smile.

Whatever he does though, there’s a raw thing going on. Not polished, yet classy still. Obvious highlights like “Talking Man Company Blues” sees him almost sneering “30 years punching the clock for a big steak dinner and a big gold watch.” – and maybe he feels that he’s paid his dues here just as much.

The band that is with him is in top form. The keys (played by Shooter Jennings – who also produces and mixes here) on “Talking….” are wonderful and the soulful backing vocals of Courtney Santana only add to the texture.

Working with Jennings means that – a little like the Duff McKagan record he worked on – everything is pared back to basics, whether that’s the front porch strum of “Baby’s Long Gone” (which he’d played on the “Death Wish Blues” tour or the classic 12 bar strut of “Navasota”, it works perfectly.

“Ballad Of Boyd Elder” is a change of pace with its mid-period Steve Earle countryish strum. He’s got a superb voice too, weather-beaten and experienced, it makes the regret-filled “Angel In My Pocket” (one of the singles he’s released from the album).

There’s some classic-sounding stuff here too. “Huntsville Prison Rodeo” could have been released at any point in the last 50 years and sounded perfect, and the storytelling of “Esther Pearl” is a simply brilliant piece of songwriting.

Only 11 songs and that’s just fine. No excess. No filler. Just down to its fighting weight, and in the case of “God Ain’t Making No More Of It”, you can almost hear the sound of hair being let down, inhibitions disappearing and the sweaty nights on the club stages that this was made for.

The other week, I reviewed the new Tyler Bryant album. This has the same vibe, the fact it seems to come deep from within, the fact the love of music seeps from every pore.

For artists like Jesse Dayton, music isn’t an option. It’s the only way – even if that is “The Hard Way Blues”.

Rating 9/10

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