Texas native Jesse Dayton has had the kind of career that seems as though it was conceived by a Hollywood screenwriter for a country music film that absolutely no one would believe was based in reality. Consider that Dayton has sessioned with legends like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, performed with Lucinda Williams, Glen Campbell and John Doe, and contributed soundtrack music to Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Reject" and "Halloween II." It's hardly a surprise when Dayton cites influences from classic '60s country to scorching '70s punk.
For "Mixtape Vol. 1," the 12th catalog entry in his nearly 25-year solo career, Dayton has opted for a covers album that tributes a range of artists and songwriters spanning a similar expanse as his own far-reaching endeavors. Neil Young's "Harvest," Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind " and Elton John's "Country Comfort" easily lend themselves to Dayton's loping Lone Star drawl and inventive arrangements but the rest of the album is a rollercoaster ride of unexpected song choices and even more unexpected results.
Reminiscent of Lucinda Williams' thrashing of "It's a Long Way to the Top," Dayton's bluesy boogie stomp through "Whole Lotta Rosie" is an equally rousing crowd pleaser, and his full metal hillbilly chicken wire swing on Jackson Browne's propulsive "Redneck Friend" actually slows down from the original by half a beat, but still hits with honky tonk intensity.
The real surprises are in Dayton's Southern Culture on the Skids reading of Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper," his high octane rockabilly reimagining of The Clash's "Bamkrobber" and the freewheeling tubthump on "She Does It Right" from British pub rock legends Dr. Feelgood. If there's a stone cold classic on the all-too-brief album, it's Dayton's brilliant reshaping of The Cars' "Just What I Needed" from new wave fist pump into raucous honky tonk waltz.
The success of "Mixtape Vol. 1" lies in Dayton's innate ability to inhabit these songs and present them from his own unique musical perspective, playing them with the same authenticity that informs his original songwriting. In that light, Dayton's "Mixtape" is a covers album only in the strictest sense; he has absorbed each and every selection here and made it his own.