Like the troubadour he’s always been, Jesse Colin Young always find a new highway to travel, even when the rest of the world is standing still. His new album is aptly named Highway Troubadour, for it contains a lifetime of music that reflects Young’s journey’s into the shadows and into the brilliant sunlight. The new album features newly-recorded solo performances—just Young and his guitar—of songs from his entire catalog, from “Sugar Babe” to “Cast a Stone,” from his most recent album Dreamers to the theme song he wrote for his series of podcasts this year, Tripping on My Roots. The COVID lockdown certainly has not kept this troubadour from flying down the highway, making the music he loves and raising his voice in support of justice, compassion, and unity. “This has been a grand adventure,” he says.
Back when the COVID lockdown began, Young and his wife Connie found a way to keep the music flowing. “Connie said to me one day, ‘Go get your guitar, and I’ll make a video of you playing ‘Sugar Babe’ and we’ll put it up on Facebook,’” Young recalls. “I did the best that I had at the time, and people really liked it, so we did between 20 and 30 songs like that. My manager David Spero said, ‘I think there’s a market for a solo album.’” But, even before he started making this video series, called “One Song at a Time,” Young had already been redeveloping his skills as a solo guitarist in anticipation of a gig at South-by-Southwest. “I had been invited to SXSW, and so I began to arrange my songs for what was basically a solo set.” When SXSW was cancelled, Young says he was ready to embark on this new adventure.
Young has also been busy with his audio and video podcast series Tripping on My Roots, which features interviews, musical collaborations, and a look at Young’s own musical roots. “Back in the fall,” he recalls, “Connie and I were having coffee. I have always been a big fan of Blind Willie McTell. His song ‘Statesboro Blues’ was the first song I learned to play; I bought the album called Country Blues, which Smithsonian put out in 1960, and I would play along with that song, trying to learn it.” Connie told him that McTell was buried in Thomson, Georgia, only 40 miles from where they live near Aiken, South Carolina. “So we took off and drove to Thomson,” he laughs. Connie started shooting some videos with her phone, including one of Young standing in front of the 100-foot mural devoted to McTell. Young decided to write a script, and they went back to Thomson with a video crew that followed Young walking through the museum devoted to McTell and talking about him. “In the morning of the filming it was raining,” Young says, “but when we went to McTell’s gravesite the sun came out. I sat on a stool and played ‘Statesboro Blues’ for Willie, and I thanked him.” That was the beginning of Tripping on My Roots, which since that first episode has featured interviews and musical performances by Taj Mahal, Little Richard, Jonathan Edwards, and Steve Miller.
The opening song on Highway Troubadour is the theme song for the podcast. “We needed one,” Young says, “and this song came out of an open tuning that I often used on Soul of a City Boy. That was the beginning of circling back.” “This is full circle, sort of back to the future, I guess,” laughs Young. Once he decided to do the album, he went through all the songs they had recorded for “One Song at a Time.” “We ended up with 21 songs,” he says, “and 11 of them made it onto the album. I wanted the versions to be beautiful.” For the album Young used two AEA Ribbon Mics—one for vocals and one for guitar. “They were exact replicas of the RCA mics I recorded ‘Get Together’ on,” he says.
Young was so ready to make this album that he was able to record almost all of the songs on the first take. “Each of the songs tell stories and contain messages from that part of my life. I ended up in tears as I was singing and playing some of them. They’re a slower than the originals, but that felt right to me. I feel things slower because I am older,” he laughs.
Young says that he and Connie are about to start going over the ones that didn’t make it on this album. “Some of them need to be re-done,” he says. And, “Get Together” will appear on one of the future albums, he promises.
“Four in the Morning” comes from The Soul of a City Boy, which was the last solo album Young recorded, over 50 years ago. As Young tells the story of the song: “There were four musical Bucks County boys living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan making music in the early ‘60s, and none of us were really getting enough to eat…Steve Weber, Michael Hurley, George Remaily, and myself. We would go home to the country and our families when we needed a break from our urban poverty and perhaps a home cooked meal. George wrote this song during that period but I don’t remember him teaching it to me. Perhaps I just heard him sing it and loved it and made it my own like I did with “Get It Together.”
In September, Young taped two shows in “the Amentum Center for the Performing Arts in Aiken. The video for ‘Four in the Morning’ comes from one of those nights. We shot it without an audience, and my manager David told me he felt like was singing to him.”
That’s just how we feel when we watch this video and whenever we hear Jesse Colin Young sing. He’s singing to us with his warm vocals, his cascading fingerpicking, and we’re sure happy that Jesse Colin Young is still riding the highways as our troubadour.
“Four In the Morning” from Jesse Colin Young’s new album, ‘Highway Troubadour’ is available – HERE.
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