San Francisco roots-folk troubadour tackles relationships on new record

California-based singer-songwriter Jesse DeNatale has become friends with a number of Winnipeg musicians over the past few years, including Matt Epp, Twilight Hotel and Scott Nolan. Courtesy Jesse DeNatale

The theme running through San Francisco singer-songwriter Jesse DeNatale’s next record may not strike people as earth-shattering at first: relationships.

“I know in some ways it sounds just trite, because so much music is written about relationships, but not necessarily for me,” DeNatale said by phone last week from a friend’s house in Black Diamond, Alta.

“I wasn’t writing in the past so much about relationships, and the wonder of relationships, and the heartache of relationships, but that’s what this one’s about.”

The record in question, Hallelujah Rain, is tentatively scheduled for release in the winter of 2011. DeNatale, who is married with two kids, said he was inspired to write about relationships he observed in his own life.

“It was something that I was seeing as personally important. … The power of two people bonded and how that is such a big part of life, that romantic coupling. … And commitment, all that stuff. You commit to somebody and what does that mean? Why do people do that?”

Hallelujah Rain will be the roots-folk troubadour’s third full-length release, following 2001’s Shangri-La West and 2006’s Soul Parade.

His recording output may not be prolific, but DeNatale’s earnest, melodic songs have earned him comparisons to Bob Dylan, Randy Newman and Tom Waits – who, along with Canadian novelist/poet Michael Ondaatje and former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, counts himself as a fan.

“Now it seems that all of the best ones have been driven underground,” Waits once said. “If there is a leak in the boiler room, it is the music of Jesse DeNatale, a unique and original American voice.”

DeNatale is encouraged by the kind words he receives from people like Waits and Ondaatje, but says that ultimately, it wouldn’t mean much if he himself didn’t like the music he’s creating.

“We do what we do and then you want somebody to get it, so it’s really encouraging,” he said. “But the truth of the matter is that you’re still left with yourself … Someone else can like it, but (it) comes down to whether or not you’re being as truthful and honest as you can be.”

DeNatale is currently touring across Western Canada with Winnipeg’s Scott Nolan and Joanna Miller serving as his back-up band. They play the West End Cultural Centre this Friday, Sept. 24.

“Part of what we do is try to take the songs and present them in a musical way that’s really about the present,” he said. “When you’re playing music, and if you feel it needs to be improvised or elaborated on while you’re playing it, you can go ahead and do that.”

After the tour, DeNatale will continue working on Hallelujah Rain and thinking about the relationships that inspired it.

“I think every artist has this story that they continually write about in different forms,” he said. “When we’re the truest, it’s apparent that we’re repeating the same story.

“Truthfully, I’m not quite sure what (story) I’m repeating, but I don’t know that it’s my job right now to try and understand it. That’s the listener’s job.”

Published in Volume 65, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 23, 2010)

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