Boston-based soul singer/songwriter and guitarist Jesse Dee has been touring in support of his album On My Mind/In My Heart and will be the headlining act at the Columbia Pike Blues Festival in Arlington on Saturday, June 18. The title of his album, which is his first released with Alligator Records, isn’t hyperbole – he comes across as a sincere and candid on the album’s eleven tracks.
“I’m a music fan first,” Dee said. “So it’s important to me to seek out and create with original ideas. That’s why songwriting is so important, and why I mean every word I write and sing.”
As a child, Dee said, he was a attracted to the sounds of The Drifters, The Shirelles, Smokey Robinson, Sam Cooke and other doo wop, Motown and R&B greats. He was playing guitar by age 18, and by 19 was fronting a band. During this time, Jesse immersed himself in the music of Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Solomon Burke, Etta James, James Brown and all the deep soul masters, listening, learning, writing and continuing to hone his craft by playing live every chance he could get.
Around the same time that he started playing guitar and performing in bands, Dee attended Massachusetts College Of Art And Design, studying illustration, performance, production, mixed-media and composition. He played in bands and did some touring while in college before fronting his own band and releasing his first album, Bittersweet Batch, in 2008.
In 2010, Dee won the Boston Phoenix Music Poll Award For Best R&B Act, both for the strength of his live show and the aftershocks of his debut, which was released on 7Not Records and Munich Records. Since then, he has opened for soul greats such as Al Green, Solomon Burke, Etta James, Bettye LaVette and blues rockers Los Lobos and the J. Geils Band. He has also shared stages many times with fellow soul singer James Hunter.
It seems like Dee has taken all of those experiences, coming in touch with and performing with some of the musicians who’ve made the music he idolizes of the last several years, and combined that with candor on his latest offering. The production is somewhat of an anomaly – the backing tracks and melodies have a dated feel sonically, but Dee’s sweet and compelling vocals cut clear across the music, grabs listeners and pulls them in for a solo show.
That much is apparent on most of the album’s tracks, but especially “Stay Strong,” which is sounds like an updated throwback to the old sound that first inspired Dee to make smusic. It also has a groove that drives like the funk of the 70s that followed the soul of the 50s and 60s. He said that he is proud of the songs on the On My Mind/In My Heart and that the tracks are a perfect representation of where he is as an artist.
“Soul music is capable of touching the greatest and most diverse group of people,” Dee said. “All the best soul music is based on shared experience. Songs have the ability to affect people, shine a light, lift them up and push them forward. There’s hope in these songs, and people need that now more than ever.”