Soul singer/guitarist Jesse Dee makes his Alligator Records debut in impressive fashion with On My Mind/In My Heart, a follow-up to Dee’s self-produced and self-released debut, 2008’s Bittersweet Batch. Dee’s rousing vocals connect with the listener, like a direct reflection of the old-fashioned hard work the artist invested in developing his musical career. In addition to those soulful, raw pipes, the Boston, Massachusetts bred Dee wrote or co-wrote each of the eleven songs on this effort. Further controlling the direction of the disc, he serves as the set’s producer, alongside Jack Younger.
“On My Mind, In My Heart” establishes the vibe of the album at the onset, presenting retro-soul production at its best. Steve Mossberg embodies the cliché of vintage piano lines while John Aruda throws down on a strong tenor sax solo. Dee delivers a vocal that fuses soul and jazz; his tone is breathtaking. “No Matter Where I Am” continues the retro-/neo-soul ruminations, with Dee contrasting his full-bodied voice with the occasional sweet falsetto. The lyrics also evoke sweetness in innocent simplicity: “When trouble comes around/you world comes tumbling, tumbling on down…you can count on me/matter where I am.”
“Fussin’ And Fightin’” channels the Memphis sound, often associated with Al Green. Spare production on the verses allows Dee’s vocals to shine brightly. The songwriting, similar to “No Matter Where I Am”, continues to reflect both innocence and naïvety, as well as hopeful positivity (“Stop fussin’ and fightin’/ain’t no need to scream and shout… we can work it out somehow”). “I Won’t Forget About You” features backing vocals channeling The Supremes and bringing about a playful, cutesy approach. Dee also embodies the tongue-in-cheek sensibility, showing superb personality while delivering lyrics like “You’re not the proper pronunciation that always comes out wrong…you’re not the words to this song”.
“Tell Me (Before It’s Too Late)”, another standout, keeps the momentum flowing without a hitch. “Tell me/tell me what’s on your mind”, Dee sings on the catchy refrain. “I’m tired of watching you trying to hide/there’s something, something isn’t right/now it only gets worse the longer you wait to/tell me, tell me”. Dee’s passion shines especially towards the end. “From The Start” allows Dee to have some fun, blending well with guest vocalist Rachel Price. Price’s tone impeccably straddles the line of soul and jazz, much like her duet partner; great minds think alike.
“The Only Remedy” showcases both grit and falsetto from Dee, while the grand “What’s A Boy To Do?” draws the deep-soul influences of Solomon Burke and Aaron Neville. The aura of “What’s A Boy To Do?” feels like an organic soul cut, as opposed to a carbon copy or a knock off. “Sweet Tooth” is a departure of sorts, finding Dee digging into a rock-soul based sound. Compared to more controlled, nuanced cuts, “Sweet Tooth” may feel overwrought. What is undeniable, however, is Dee’s passion, emotion, and his lighter side. “Boundary Line” slows the tempo down, contrasting the explosive “Sweet Tooth”. For all its brilliant orchestration, the true highlight of “Boundary Line” is Dee’s brilliant voice. “Stay Strong” does just that, closing the effort as capably as it began.
Overall, On My Mind/In My Heart gets it done. Jesse Dee delivers the goods consistently and excellently over the course of each and every track. There are gems that stand out among the rest, but generally, any one of the 11 tracks won’t let you down. In a time where consistency and focus is often hard to come by, Dee and his supporting cast of musicians embody and embrace it. A superb effort by all means.