Thursday 18 January 2018


Legend has it that when a doctor bumped into hospital inmate Jack Kerouac in the lift and enquired where the writer was going, Kerouac declared defiantly, "I'm going out to kick the gong around."

Jesse Malin sounds like a man who knows all about that "gong" and how to kick it around.

From Queens, New York, Malin has been making music since he was 12. That's 35 years of rolling the rock down a dead-end street. He's learned a trick or two on the way. And on this 13-track album, due out in a fortnight, he puts many of them to good use.

I wouldn't expect him to agree, but this collection betrays a delicious hint of John Ford's famous remark, "Between fact and legend, one should always prime for the legend."

I'll let Jesse explain. "People talk about the death of the album and even the death of rock'n'roll," he says. "But this is not just a shuffle of songs. There is a cinematic thread, a story."

And, yes, he criss-crossed America to record these songs, hooking up with some special friends along the way.

It's five years since the last Malin album. Since then, he's written enough songs for a boxed set. Or two.

The ones here reclaim a musical landscape that's been forcibly redeveloped by conglomerates whose music is the barren equivalent of urban infill or dubious gentrification.

Malin's scuffed authenticity and unquenchable conviction has along attracted admirers. The first album Ryan Adams ever produced was Malin's The Fine Art of Self Destruction. In 2007, Bruce Springsteen guested on his Glitter in the Gutter album. His punk roots meant he's been able to record with members of Green Day.

New York Before the War has the timeless quality of all great rock'n'roll records.

These songs map out a ley-line that joins Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter and Nikki Sudden, R.E.M and the Ramones, the Replacements and the Plimsouls.


"Lie awake and watch the news, in a language I don't understand…" he sings on the piano-lead ballad The Dreamers, catching a sense of the ennui often experienced by the weary global traveller.

By comparison the Heartbreakers' thud of Freeway explodes with a sizzling guitar solo from MC5 legend Wayne Kramer, as Jesse gives the nod to poet laureate Chuck Berry with the line "you can take the freeway down…"

There's no mistaking Peter Buck's chiming guitar on the plaintiff I Would Do It For You.

Addicted, the melodic first track we heard from this set, is a tribute to punk scene legend Arturo Vega. Rating: HHHHI

New York Before the War (OLI/Gilded)

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