On his new album, Leaving Atlanta, Gentleman Jesse continues to prove that he is one of the finest practitioners of power pop/punk currently active. Gentleman Jesse, aka Jesse Smith, first came to attention as a solo artist with his debut record Gentleman Jesse & His Men in 2008; it is arguably the finest piece of power pop/punk since The Exploding Hearts’ Guitar Romantic in 2003.
Both Leaving Atlanta and Gentleman Jesse & His Men are steeped in their influences from power pop and first wave ’77 punk. The power pop influence is even more apparent on Leaving Atlanta than on His Men and while Smith is certainly heavily indebted to his influences he writes some of the best power pop songs around these days. His take on rock ‘n’ roll is a refreshing one and in many ways it is bringing rock back to its roots — just as garage rock and power pop are supposed to do. For pure back-to-the-roots rock ‘n’ roll perhaps only Greg Cartwright of Reigning Sound can do it better nowadays.
As is almost obligatory in the power pop genre Gentleman Jesse’s work revolves around love, and as this is pop music you have got your fair share of both the happy and the sad. It is music for young people about the things that young people in general care about — and above all it is very good. The standard is very high through the entire album, and there is hardly a bum track, with opener “Eat Me Alive” and the very ‘60s girl-group sounding “Careful What You Wish For” being among the highlights. The songs are always catchy, often funny and very relatable, and coupled with Smith’s vocals and the fitting musicianship it makes for an excellent listen.
While the refreshingly simple take on rock music is one of the albums main strengths it is also its main drawback — it is after all very basic. But when the songs are this good that is really only a complaint for the sake of finding something to complain about. Leaving Atlanta is far from a perfect record — there is not anything approaching ‘classic status’ on it – but it is a very fine one, and certainly one of the best we will see in its genre this year.