You don’t have to venture far into this heartfelt, memorable album to be reminded of how much we lost with the passing of Jesse Winchester last April. Starting with his eponymous debut LP in 1970, which contained such classics as “Yankee Lady” and “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz,” he gave us a string of essential records, but none shine brighter than this final release. It is a must for longtime fans and a fine introduction for those who have yet to discover his music.
Winchester never previously made an album you could label happy or sad and he didn’t do so on A Reasonable Amount of Trouble. Instead, he delivered a full range of emotions, sometimes in a single song. His sharp sense of humor comes across in tracks like “Never Forget to Boogie” while the lilting “Don’t Be Shy” conveys his romantic, playful side. Melancholy permeates “A Little Louisiana,” “Every Day I Get the Blues,” and “Ghosts,” the latter a song he wrote for his mother after leaving Memphis for Canada in 1967 to avoid the Vietnam War draft.
Speaking of “Ghosts,” it includes this couplet: “If you really need to reach me, go to 1963/Playing guitar by the radio, anything in G.” Accordingly, A Reasonable Amount of Trouble incorporates covers of three of Winchester’s favorite hits from rock and roll’s early years: “Devil or Angel” (the Clovers, 1955; Bobby Vee, 1960), “Whispering Bells” (the Del Vikings, 1957) and “Rhythm of the Rain” (the Cascades, 1963). All are ideal choices, as they capture the artist’s melodic sensibility and sweet, gentle spirit.
Throughout his career, Winchester never hesitated to write about himself and he certainly seems to do so on this album, which he recorded shortly before his death from cancer. “All That We Have Is Now,” the lead track, finds him singing, “The sun is going down, there’s shadows all around… Well, I wanted more somehow, but all that we have is now.” Even in a song like this, I sense no self-pity; on the contrary, Winchester conveys his affection for life and proclaims, “What a joy it’s been.” Lines like this retain their full power because producer and lead guitarist Mac McAnally wisely keeps the singer’s warm, understated tenor front and center.
Winchester confronts his mortality most directly in the poignant “Just So Much,” where he sings: “So where do I find [God]?; it’s never quite clear/I’m dying to find him, but dying’s my fear/Is there perfection, will there be pain?/Will I see Momma and Dad again?” Whatever the answers to those questions, I think one thing’s for sure: on this Earth in the years ahead, we won’t see anyone quite like Jesse Winchester.