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REVIEW: Jesse Ahern “Roots Rock Rebel”

Jesse Ahern

Jesse Ahern – Roots Rock Rebel

Jesse Ahern is EXACTLY the type of roots rocker you’d expect to see coming out of Boston – tatted-up, pro-union and loves him some Dropkick Murphys. Of course, Ahern actually has toured with the boys from Quincy, Mass, as well as signing with their record label. His first album for Dummy Luck, Roots Rock Rebel is a gruff, no-frills accounting of blue-collar life with a strong anti-authoritraian streak.

Roots Rock Rebel begins with “Pray,” an acoustic-and-kick-drum questioning of prayer and the men behind organized religion – “‘Jesus saves,’ the holy rollers say/Sinners swear that it’s the only way.” It’s a stark retort to the “thoughts and prayers” crowd, aided by an ironic tinge of gospel from Dustbowl Revival singer Lashon Halley. Ahern continues to call for responsibility from men in the more intimate “Daughter and Son.” The harmonica-laced tune addresses the social backsliding that women have seen happen over the past seven years or so – “To the daughters of the world, we’re failing you once again.” As a father himself, Ahern acknowledges his own responsibility. As a singer-songwriter, though, he knows the best chance for progress lies in the next generation – “To the sons of the world, it’s time to be better men/To think of all the troubles that we will never mend”

Last fall, Ahern hit the road with Dropkick Murphys (on their largely acoustic This Machine Still Kills Fascists tour) and Jaime Wyatt, and a piece of those nights is represented on “The Older I Get.” Featuring Wyatt and Dropkick’s Ken Casey on vocals, Ahern strums along on electric guitar as the threesome sings of the questionable wisdom gained with aging – “I thought I found love, but there was no heart/I tried it again, but there was no spark.” Casey’s verse, though, contains the smallest bit of old-man optimism – “What I worried about then, I don’t care about now.”

Ahern indulges a couple of favorite covers. His wistful take on The Clash’s “”Bankrobber” presents theft as a kind of (hopefully) harmless alternative to low-wage earning – “He never hurt nobody/He just loved to live that way.” And Lou Reed’s “Strawman” features Ahern’s most bone weary vocals in a song that shows how little a member of the rapidly disappearing middle class truly expects – “Does anyone need yet another skyscraper/If you’re like me, I’m sure a minor miracle will do.” Ahern chooses to wrap the album with the resolute (yet surprisingly sweet) “I Believe.” With acoustic and harmonica, the singer owns his capability to f@&k up – “I believe what I say now might change down the road” – but also expresses unyielding faith in those closest to him – “I believe in the chosen few/And I believe in you.” That kind of faith is the only authority Ahern needs.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “I Drive A Truck” – This is a bit of a cheat on my part, as I did see him play it in Denver in November, but this melancholy road song – here laced with pedal steel – becomes an empathetic sing-along live.

Roots Rock Rebel was produced by Ted Hutt, mixed by Hutt and Ryan Mall, engineered by Mall and mastered by Dave Cooley. All original songs written by Jesse Ahern (co-writing credits to Hutt). Musicians on the album include Ahern (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Hutt (guitar, percussion), Matthew Pynn (pedal steel guitar), Jimmy Dixon (organ), Ken Casey (vocals), Jaime Wyatt (vocals), Lashon Halley (backing vocals) and Brian Hinkley (backing vocals).

Go here to order Roots Rock Rebel (out September 15 digitally, CDs and LPs available on tour beginning Sept 27 and vinyl released October 20):

Check out tour dates here:

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