Jesse Dayton released two very successful, critically-acclaimed albums on Blue Elan Records over the past few years, so naturally, the label was hungry for more.
When they suggested last year that Dayton of Austin, Texas, put out a new studio project, he had a different idea: What about a record of covers?
But the Beaumont, Texas, native whose career has included recording with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson; making movie soundtracks and films with Rob Zombie; and contributing to everyone from punkers the Supersuckers to celebrated Texas folk-rocker Lucinda Williams doesn’t merely “cover” the artists on his “Mixtape Vol. 1.” He reinvents their songs, arranging them to suit his voice and vision for how he believes the original artists and writers would like them.
“The intention of the record was to do cool arrangements of the songs that I think the original writers would have dug,” Dayton explained from home in Austin last week to talk about his show Saturday, Aug. 10, at Club Congress.
On “Mixtape Vol. 1,” which comes out in vinyl, CD and cassette tape on Friday, Aug. 9, Dayton does not attempt to “ape” the artists whose songs he covers. He does not sound like Jackson Browne on “Redneck Friend,” which he gives a light country makeover to open the record, and he showcases a muscular yet vulnerable baritone on Gordon Lightfoot’s normally dreamy “If You Could Read My Mind.” His arrangement of AC/DC’s classic ‘Whole Lotta Rosie” will remind you of old-school blues, and he adds a honky-tonk twist to The Cars’ “Just What I Needed” that will make you forget that you ever heard the original 1978 version.
Dayton added steel pedal and piano to Neil Young’s “Harvest” and some dark hues to Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper.” His twangy reimagination of the Clash’s punk/reggae rocker “Bankrobber” is a nice segue to his Cajun fiddle arrangement of ZZ Top’s “She’s A Heartbreaker.”
Cover to cover — no pun intended — “Mixtape Vol. 1” ends up sounding like a Jesse Dayton record.
“That was the goal,” he said. “In this day of voice contests on TV, people are just aping each other. There’s no imagination. But if you listen to the AC/DC song it sounds like an old blues song, something that they might have listened to. If you listen to ‘Redneck Friend’ by Jackson Browne, it sounds more like country rock of the 1970s and ‘80s.”
Tucson has been a regular stop for Dayton throughout his career, from his days backing the rock band Supersuckers in the 1990s to playing country on a punk rock lineup as an opening act.
“I was playing country music in Tucson for punk rock audiences when it wasn’t very hip to do that,” he said. “And they were like, ‘Hey, who’s the slide guitar player in the wheelchair?’ I was like, ‘No man, you have to sit down to play a pedal steel guitar’ because they had never seen it. But they all had their Johnny Cash shirts on flipping the bird. That was their gateway drug.”