Jesse DeNatale,
Soul Parade
(Jackpine Social Club, 2006)

San Francisco-bred and -based, Jesse DeNatale was in his 40s before he started recording, at the encouragement of local friends Tom Waits and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. DeNatale, a singer-songwriter, calls the former artist to mind more often than the latter, though occasionally one catches hints of Elliott's distinctive phrasing. Actually, it isn't hard to imagine a Ramblin' Jack version of "Montgomery St.," a meander through that celebrated North Beach location alongside the ghosts of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Malvina Reynolds.

On the other hand, "Dreamer's Holiday" and "The Follies of Don Calandro" sound -- in melody, lyric, performance and arrangement -- like early Waits pieces. And then there are some obvious Bob Dylan and Van Morrison influences. Finally, it may or may not be worth noting that in his physical appearance DeNatale recalls -- rather strikingly, in fact -- Bruce Springsteen.

Even so, in Soul Parade -- DeNatale's second CD (I haven't heard the first, Shangri-La West, released in 2003) -- the artist finds his voice in strong melodies and confidently crafted, sometimes elusive lyrics that conjure up vivid scenes and multiple perspectives. Because he isn't a kid, DeNatale is neither self-absorbed nor devoid of worthwhile things to say. From the evidence of the songs here, he possesses an unsentimental generosity of spirit, a melancholy kindness, the sorts of things that come with good heart, long experience and wry hope. "Keep on Walkin,'" for example, would not be believable as the testimony of a younger artist.

The title song, on the surface anyway, is about a simple walk on a summer day. Below that surface, it is a meditation on all life, and its touch is assured, unpretentious and perfect. It's something Bob Dylan, or anyway the less dour Dylan who may dwell in a parallel universe, would be proud to have written. DeNatale places it inside a skeletal arrangement, put together by himself on piano, guitar and harmonica. On other cuts he's joined by a small, largely acoustic combo proficient in a range of genres, including pop, jazz, rock and folk. The lullabye-like "Baby Joe" fuses all of these styles into a song of exceptional power.

As a general rule I harbor no particular enthusiasm for the singer-songwriter genre, but DeNatale is more interesting than most, with an attractive persona, a wise point of view and an imposing talent that probably, one or two CDs down the road, is going to be pretty hard to overlook.

by Jerome Clark
5 August 2006

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