Jesse Malin + Don Dilego and The Touristas + Diane and the Gentle Men
It’s been five years since Jesse Malin last released an album, and that only upped the stakes for this one. New York Before the War is a hymn to everything Malin believes in most: respecting your roots, grabbing the future by its throat, and creating a soundtrack for a life filled with meaning. None of those things is easy to do, especially now. In fact, that’s what the war in the title is all about: the battle to create and hold onto what’s worthwhile even as so many forces, both internal and in the world outside, conspire to sweep it away. At the very top of that list is music.
“I wanted to make a record that encompassed everything I’ve been through since I started playing hardcore when I was twelve or thirteen,” Malin says. Two years ago he had completed an album “out in the country” at White Star Studio near Charlottesville, VA. But then he realized it really wasn’t finished. “Late last December, just back from a tour, I found myself sitting in my studio apartment in an old, crooked building that had the words THE WAR boldly painted on its side,” Malin says. “In the silence of the holidays, away from family and friends, I found myself questioning everything I believed in. Looking out the window at a broken world where our values, culture and art have become instantly disposable, I felt lost and alienated, but still yearning for something more. Turning to my music, I tried to carve out a place where I could once again exist, and I sat down and wrote the rest of this record.”
He ended up with close to forty songs. “I’ve always been a fan of the album as an art form,” Malin says, and New York Before the War is a unified statement. It opens with “The Dreamers,” a haunting ballad that nearly became the album’s title track. Resting on an elegant piano figure, the song evokes both the alienation and the sense of deep connection that travel can bring. Wherever you are and whomever you meet, “the blood still runs red,” Malin sings. That sense of doubleness, that emotional complexity – carving your own path but desperate for connection to a larger community — runs throughout the album. Darker meditations like “She’s So Dangerous” and “Bar Life” nestle next to rockers like “Freeway” (which features a blistering solo by the MC5’s Wayne Kramer) and “Turn Up the Mains” (with Alejandro Escovedo on backing vocals).