To judge by the liner notes accompanying A Touch on the Rainy Side, this sixth and arguably best Jesse Winchester album would seem to mark new directions. For the first time, for example, the singer features production by Nashville studio veteran Norbert Putnam. And though Winchester had never previously made an album in the States, he recorded this one in Putnam’s hometown with the aid of country session musicians like David Briggs and Kenny Buttrey. In addition, the program incorporates such apparent surprises as a version of Dawn’s pop hit “Candida.”
For whatever reason, however, the set only rarely reflects the influence of Putnam, Nashville, or the American sojourn. As for “Candida,” the album’s sole non-original, you needn’t brace yourself for a journey into Dawn-like vapidity. Revitalized by Winchester’s phrasing and arrangement, the lyrics garner new dimensions and the song winds up sounding like one of his own better compositions.
The rest of the LP—which predominantly features the emotive, melancholic ballads suggested by the title and his previous efforts—is just as good. Among my current favorites is the title cut, a tribute to Winchester’s wife that recalls Steve Goodman’s brand of romanticism. Other highlights include Holly,” where the artist employs lilting Latin touches and a singalong chorus to capture the joyous optimism of a new affair; “Wintry Feeling,” which may be the most touching musical “letter” since Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat”; and “I’m Looking for a Miracle,” a good sample of Winchester’s sharp humor, which he describes as “slightly skeptical gospel.”