Jesse Malin is the true King of New York. First coming on the New York City scene as a teenager in the early 1980s with the hardcore band Heart Attack, he later went on to front the glam-punk legends D Generation, spent time in bands like Bellvue before going solo and collaborating with people such as Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen and Green Day. After releasing two solo records in 2015, Malin released a D Generation reunion record in 2016 and pretty much laid low, except for the 2017 EP Meet Me at the End of the World. Now, he’s back with a new record, Sunset Kids, produced by the one and only Lucinda Williams.
Upon the first listen, there are a few things that jump out about Sunset Kids. First, it is a perfect combination of Malin’s and William’s talents. The songwriting, as expected, is solid. Most of the songs sound like they could be recorded by either artist and sound just as good. Secondly, we’ve heard some of these songs before. If there is a knock on Jesse Malin, it’s that he does tend to reuse songs on multiple records. Three of the 14 songs on Sunset Kids appeared on previous Malin records in different versions. “Meet Me at the End of the World Again” is an update of the 2017 single. The original version of the gorgeous “Promises” was on the 2013 compilation Greatest Bits and “Revelations”, one of the best lyrics of Malin’s career, has seen versions on 2010’s Love It to Life, as well as the 2017 , Meet Me at the End of the World EP.
The focus of the record is the new tracks. Malin is a master lyricist. When he is at his best, he can transport the listener into the song. Few can write a better song of life on the road and the not-so-glamorous hotel life. “Room 13” ranks up there with his classic “Hotel Columbia” as a great example of what touring life really is like. Lucinda Williams adds her harmonies to bring the song over the top. Williams makes appearances on the beautiful “Shane”, a tribute to the Pogues Shane MacGowan as well as the smoldering “Dead On”. Williams isn’t the only familiar voice to show up on the record however, the rocking “Strangers and Thieves” finds Malin dueting with Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong on a track that features some of the best guitar work on the album.
Sunset Kids sees Williams bring out a more grown, reflective Jesse Malin. As a songwriter, Malin has always had two major strengths, the ability to paint a picture with the depth of his lyrics and a sense of melody that makes every song instantly recognizable and memorable. Both of those strengths are at full power here. Sonically, the record is reminiscent of 2015’s more laid back Outsiders rather than its harder companion New York Before the War. Malin has found a comfortable fit within the singer-songwriter/Americana genre that Lucinda Williams has made a career in.
Overall this is a strong record. As a longtime fan on Malin’s work, I would like to see him concentrate on new songs rather than re-recording some of his classics, but those tracks take little away from this record. The Malin/Williams partnership is a strong one, and you can only hope it continues both in the studio and, hopefully, on the stage.