Jesse Manley
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Jesse Manley

Denver, Colorado, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | INDIE

Denver, Colorado, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Folk Indie




"Jesse Manley Brushes Up On American History For 'Dust'"

Jesse Manley has spent the past few years collaborating with Denver dance troupe Wonderbound. The Denver musician wrote music for five performances including "Dust," a piece on the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. His songs reflect the folk and Americana music of that time.

Manley and his band went on to record the music of "Dust" as an album, which they released last week. Prior to the album release show, Manley performed three songs from the record in the CPR Performance Studio. He also spoke with Jeremy Petersen about his history with Wonderbound, playing the rare Weissenborn slide guitar and reading up on the Dust Bowl for his latest work.

Stream the session and watch Jesse Manley perform "Bring Me Home" above.

Interview highlights:

Manley on recording a studio version of songs written for live performance:

"It's a wonderful thing to have them dialed in when you go into the studio. So it's super easy. ... We do make some small changes because sometimes the stuff written for the shows is not how we would want to present them exactly."

On his fascination with the Dust Bowl era of American history:

"There were some really interesting, really crazy, weird things that happened. From the plagues, the swarms of locusts and rabbits. ... People thought the apocalypse had arrived. They thought it was the end of the world. It was a really strange and interesting time."

Songs performed:
•"Bring Me Home"
•"Eyes That Once Had Faith"
•"The Hoedown" - Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir

"Steal This Track: “Bring Me Home” by Denver’s Jesse Manley"

There are many reasons to create music, of course. There’s the pedestrian desire for popularity, there is the vaulted idea of artistic creation, but there are also less common reasons. For Jesse Manley, one reason seems to be archeological exploration.

On “Dust,” Manley’s latest release, he explores the folk, Americana music of the 1930s with the passion of Indiana Jones seeking the Holy Grail.

Now, there are lots of musicians here in Colorado who have a perhaps unhealthy desire to recreate the old timey music of yesteryear. But if you give “Dust” even a five minute listen, you’ll see the difference here. Manley is not creating a contemporary parody of 1930s music; he is attempting to live inside 1930s music. As such, it hardly bares any musical cliches typical of the era. This is not silly work.

Jesse Manley is not alone in this pursuit. He has his band, of course, but he also has the Denver dance troupe Wonderbound. For “Dust,” Manley somehow collaborated with Wonderbound as well as Curious Theatre Company, creating a multi-disciplinary artistic event. Appropriate to the era, “dust” refers to the Dust Bowl, the 1930s agricultural catastrophe that afflicted the prairies of the US and Canada. These connections only add a layer to be uncovered by listener archeologists.

Below, download “Bring Me Home” from the album. Then, join Jesse and his band on March 10 at Syntax Physic Opera for the album release show. The album will then be available through all the usual outlets. - Denver Post's The Know

"Jesse Manley Brings Dust to Syntax Physic Opera"

Jesse Manley and his six-piece band will release their latest album, Dust, at Syntax Physic Opera tonight, Friday, March 10. The recording represents the fourth time Manley has written music for the ballet company Wonderbound. This is quite the unusual partnership for a guy whose musical roots lie within the folk tradition. And yet Manley's actual musical path hasn't been so conventional, either.

Manley was born in Montana and went to school in Oklahoma, earning a degree in environmental science at the University of Oklahoma in Norman before moving to Colorado in 2001 to be back near the mountains. He'd taken some basic music lessons in high school, but quit playing music during his college years. Once in Colorado, Manley played the usual gauntlet of open-mic nights at places like the Mercury Cafe and the Meadowlark before recording his debut album, Devil's Red, in 2011, with Colorado progressive-rock legend Dave Willey of Thinking Plague and Hamster Theatre. Following that, Manley recorded a 2013 EP, A Path Through the Dark, with Jeff Rady, David Thomas Bailey and Dean Hirschman, the latter of whom he writes and performs with today.

In 2014, Manley began working with Wonderbound Artistic Director Garrett Ammon, creating compositions to accompany the troupe's live ballet performances. Without any real formal music training beyond those early music lessons in high school, Manley dove into the concepts for each production and taught himself new techniques and new instruments, including the Weissenborn, which he learned about from the recordings of Jeff Fahey and brought to his writing of Dust.

Tonight's show at Syntax will not involve the ballet production, but Manley will perform selections from the new record with his long-running band comprising violinist Emily Rose Lewis, cellist David Short, upright bass player Jean-Luc Davis, percussionist Dean Hirschman and multi-instrumentalist April Johannesen, who plays clarinet, bass clarinet and flute. We recently spoke with Manley about some of the ideas behind Dust and the dynamics of a band that is rooted in the simplicity of folk music but performs as a chamber orchestra with complex arrangements.

Westword: With Wonderbound, you write to the concepts of the performance. What was the concept behind Dust?

Jesse Manley: The concept for the show is the Dust Bowl and exploring the complexities of that time period and how it relates to more current topical issues like the environmental issues we're experiencing. Through the character development, interesting ideas came up. One of the characters was a snake-oil salesman-type character and another was a preacher. So I wrote a gospel tune called “Bring Me Home,” for which we filmed a music video at an old farmhouse in Parker. The script developed, I wrote music at the same time, and we came together and changed the music to line up with some of the choreography.

You didn't go to school for composition, but now you work with something like a miniature orchestra?

No. I just liked exploring stuff, and I'm willing to dive in and learn. I try to learn new instruments and technique, but that stems from the concept of the show. The more instruments you have, the more complicated it becomes to make everything fit. If everyone plays at once, it becomes a mess. A lot of what we learned as a band at first, I think, was that it's okay not to play. It's cool playing with people that understand that sometimes less is more. I've learned a lot from the band because they're all such accomplished musicians in arranging and theory. They all come from the background of having gone to school for music.

Why play folk instead of some more popular music from when you were growing up? For you, it's also partially grounded in the literary aspects of the music these days.

Something has always drawn me to acoustic instruments. Maybe it fits my personality, too, because I'm a laid-back, mellow kind of dude. I grew up listening to a lot of folk music from my dad, [and] that has always stuck with me. There's parts of it I'm still exploring. A big part of songwriting is writing lyrics and not doing it shittily. My goal is to write lyrics that can stand on their own like poetry can. For a long time, lyrics were something that weren't an afterthought, but it came second for me. I spent more time with the music. With Leonard Cohen passing, I've thought about how his words are the kinds of lyrics I'd like to write. His spiritual journey and his seeking to understand what he's going through is a big inspiration. - Westword

"The Soundtrack: Listen to a Song Composed by Jesse Manley for Wonderbound's "Winter""

A choreographer can spend hours developing a story in his or her head—and then devote many more to imagining the movements and staging that bring that tale to life. But it isn't until he or she has the final music that the true work begins. The dance, after all, is at least partially reliant on the beats, pauses, and moods of the song it is performed to.

For Wonderbound artistic director Garrett Ammon and Denver-based musician Jesse Manley, the creative process for Winter—the contemporary dance company’s latest work, which promises to tantalize each of the five senses—began almost a year ago. (Manley previously collaborated with the group on last year's A Gothic Folktale.) Manley's varied inspirations (classical, folk, blues, and jazz, among them) come through in the seven folksy, instrumental songs he created, which feel both familiar and of a different time. "For this project, I was interested in music of the 1920s, some of the jazz and blues music from that era," he says. "It may not come across that way when you hear the music, but the influences are there."

In composing for dancers, Manley is constantly balancing his vision for a song with the elements dancers need, like changes in tempo and shifts in mood. (Ammon also provides feedback in the development process as the choreography comes together.) The new tunes for Winter—which Manley and his band will play live during performances—are studied and lively in a way that convinces the listener that they must have come from the soul of someone who has devoted his entire life to music. However, Manley didn't start writing music until after college. In fact, the 38-year-old is mostly self-taught. His primary instrument is the acoustic guitar, but he also dabbles in (and writes for) the banjo and piano. "I write different voices on different instruments," he says. "It’s fun to pick up an instrument and write a tune maybe I wouldn't have written if I wasn’t switching around and playing different instruments."

Often, Ammon offers up a piece of literature that Manley can use as an additional source of inspiration. For Winter, it was Touch, a novel by Alexi Zentner, which adheres to the literary concept of "magical realism." "It’s taking these otherworldly happenings and incorporating them into a real-world situation," Manley says. In other words, it’s a fitting concept for a musician who must seize upon the imaginings of a choreographer and help transform them into a memorable experience for the audience. - 5280 Magazine

"Steal This Track from Jesse Manley"

On April 26, Jesse Manley will debut the live recording of “A Gothic Folktale,” music he wrote for a ballet in collaboration with Wonderbound and mentalist/magician Professor Phelyx. Steal “The Rules” now.

What do you get when you cross a folk musician, a dance troupe and a magician? No joke, you get a gothic folktale.

In early 2013, Denver folkster Jesse Manley teamed up with Garrett Ammon, artistic director of Wonderbound, the dance company formerly known as Ballet Nouveau, to create a work of art that transcends music and dance, and enters the realm of magic. The two began working together in 2011 when Ammon choreographed a ballet to Manley’s first album, “Devil’s Red.” But this recent collaboration is grander in scope, with the music written specifically for the performance.

“A Gothic Folktale” is a performance without a traditional narrative. Rather, a vaudevillian host leads viewers through a show full of mysticism. To add to the magic, the group actually includes real magic from the noted magician and mentalist Professor Phelyx.

On Saturday, April 26, Jesse Manley will debut a live recording of the music from “A Gothic Folktale” with a performance at Wonderbound. The album is very much a soundtrack, at times feeling incomplete without the performance, but the collection is impressive on its own. Manley makes heavy use of the tenor banjo to create an eery, vaudeville feeling throughout, yet the album showcases his ability to incorporate a variety of instruments and arrangements to maintain a theme with an expansive creativity.

Below, download “The Rules” for an idea of what to expect on April 26. - Denver Post

"The Commentary Corner: Wonderbound's "A Gothic Folktale""

On Friday, I had the pleasure of witnessing the talented troupe, Wonderbound (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado) for the first time onstage with A Gothic Folktale. Let's first look at the title, A Gothic Folktale - honestly, this show is actually more bohemian and not that gothic of a production. I don't think they truly understood the meaning of the word gothic; see for me gothic is more dark and mysterious whereas bohemian is more folksy, playful, and full of illusion and wonder. While the dance was mesmerizing and quite enjoyable, the production as a whole was a bit distracted and staccato. The main reason for this was trying to infuse too many elements into this show (sometimes - less is more). Even though I was amused by the illusions and mind games by Professor Phelyx, the overuse of him made the entire production a bit choppy and prolonged. I would have actually cut down the illusionist to one effect in the first act and another in Act Two with a grand finale (this would have helped with the flow and length of the show). The redeeming quality of this show were the excellent dancers and the stunning live band. The amazing band, led by Jesse Manley with original music for the show was the cherry on the top of the cake and the live aspect added such a wonderful quality to the production. The company was on their game and fabulous, and I thoroughly enjoyed their craft that brought the production such a playfulness, carnival-like air and sense of awe that left the audience spellbound. I especially was entranced by the twins, the lovers, and the fun with the levitating rods and balls. Exceptional dance numbers were "Millie and Christine", "Levitation", "The Rules", "In Your Arms Again", and "The Girl". Wonderbound's, A Gothic Folktale will be playing at the PACE Center (Parker Arts, Culture and Events Center) in Parker, CO. Performances are Friday and Saturday, October 26 & 27 at 7:30pm. For tickets or more information, check out Wonderbound online at or by calling 303-292-4700. - Presenting Denver

"12/23/11 Rock, Americana & Holiday Albums // New to KRFC’s Library"

> Jesse Manley, Devil’s Red COLORADO ARTiST!

Just goes to show you … I received this fine album a couple months ago. It lived on my dusty old desk until this week, when I decided to clear things away. I sorted CDs a bit, coming across a few that I wanted to re-preview, just in case. Like Jesse Manley’s fine album. Manley is a talented Denver folk/pop musician, with a voice somewhere between Jeff Finlin and Colin Meloy, and a musical sensibility not unlike those two. Manley and his producer Willey play just about every instrument on the album, with nice arrangements featuring occasional mando, banjo, lap steel and “Baldwin Fun Machine”. Why I didn’t respond to this CD immediately I might never know. But here it is now, and it deserves your attention (prob’ly sooner than later).
Produced by: Dave Willey w/Jesse Manley
Label: Self
File Under: Rock / Local

"Jesse Manley - Devil's Red"

Not really freak folk but certainly left leaning, even though Manley grew up in some rock ribbed Republican areas. Pomo folk? If college radio isn't the next thing to collapse, this has college radio written all over it. - Midwest Record - Entertainment Reviews, News, and Views

"Jesse Manley is ready for his close-up"

Distinguishing oneself from being just another guy with a guitar from all the other guys with guitars is difficult. Jesse Manley, however,
seems more than up to the task, thanks to earnest lyrics, dreamy melodies and a truly
unique voice, all of which make the improbably-monikered musician's songs truly
stand out. Much like the first time I heard Gregory Alan Isakov, I was instantly
captivated by Manley's songs and sounds. The singer-songwriter is still working on
recordings for a debut and hasn't played out much yet, but the tracks on his MySpace page are those of a mature songwriter with a well-developed style. "Vagabond Hill" reminds me of some of Dylan's more ambitious ballads, while "Final Mistake" has a lovely country lope, blended with an indie folk sensibility. If you only have the attention span for one song, though, make it "Devil's Red" -- an excellent showcase of Manley's voice and vision. Definitely keep an eye out for this fresh new talent. - The Westword

"UMS 2.7, Day 2 recap: An essay"

.....Jesse Manley, who played a beautiful, understated set to a comfortably crowded coffee house atmosphere.
- Denver Post

"Jesse Manley - Devil's Red"

Not really freak folk but certainly left leaning, even though Manley grew up in some rock ribbed Republican areas. Pomo folk? If college radio isn't the next thing to collapse, this has college radio written all over it. - Midwest Record - Entertainment Reviews, News, and Views

"Jesse Manley - Devil's Red"

Jesse Manley spent his childhood on an enormous ranch just north of Yellowstone National Park, and it shows in his particular brand of folk music, which is thoughtful and introspective -- but retains a gritty, thousand-yard stare.

- Epitonic

"Jesse Manley - Devil's Red"

4 out of 5 stars

A folk traditionalist with a Celtic lilt, Jesse Manley’s debut shows an artist who acknowledges the boundaries of a genre and doesn’t push them. This is straight forward folk which, presented properly, like it is here, is amazingly complex in its simplicity. - Marquee Magazine

"Jesse Manley - Devil's Red"

Colorado has never had much to offer in terms of pop music. The success of Sixteen Horsepower has apparently brought about a thing, because we now regularly meet interesting artists who choose Denver as their base. Similarly, Jesse Manley, who grew up on a ranch north of Yellowstone National Park in Montana. Devil's Red is his very successful debut. Manley has a beautiful clear voice with a slight vibration in the high. He writes songs with soothing melodies. Manley plays acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin and piano on Devil's Red, while Dave Willey produced this album with a whole studio full of instruments. Manley's songs have the wave structure and often use the banjo in a similar vein of Sixteen Horsepower. Due to its subtlety, the music could be linked to the sound of Sufjan Stevens. Fortunately, the Manley's music is simpler and more down to earth. Yet, O Lord is especially notable for the special percussion. Hmm, actually it sounds even more like something from Fay Lovsky. And whether it's a song with a waltzing accordion (Musical Chairs) or something that starts with transverse guitars as we know from Meat Puppets (The Game), Devil's Red is fascinating from start to finish. - ALT COUNTRY NL

"Jesse Manley - Devil's Red"

Jesse Manley’s musical creations are unique
and enchanting. His sound covers a lot of
musical territory, but if you had to sum it up
with one genre title it would probably be
“folk.” That said, you’ll hear things like jazz,
country, bluegrass, alternative rock and
even progressive rock in this mix. It’s an
entertaining album that never struggles for
lack of variety.

Track by Track Review

This comes in feeling a bit like bluegrass meets folk music. It
grows out from there, though, into a track that has some 1980s
music along with some definite modern progressive rock built into
the mix. The arrangement is deceptively complex and compelling.

Find Your Way Home
There is a playful sort of folk air to some of this number, but it
also works out to sounds along the line of French café music. This
is a nice change of pace. It’s slow moving and quite tasty.

The Longest Day
This time around those bluegrass elements really dominate the
piece. It’s bouncy, folky and fun. Despite the title, a day with this
kind of music would not be long at all. We get some tasty slide
guitar on this number.

The Mood You're In
A short little introduction ends. Then we get a shuffling kind of
bluegrass sound. The vocals come in over the top, bringing into
more of an alternative folk sound. This modulates closer to rock
music than a lot of the other music ever does.

Vagabond Hill
Starting with more of that café music meets folk element, this
works out to one of the most alternative rock sounding bits of the
set. It’s sort of a stripped down jazzy arrangement, at the same
time. There is definitely a jam band element to this cut.

The Game
We still get folk and other elements here, but this one is really an
energized alternative rock tune. It’s quite a cool number. It works
out later to something not that far removed from modern
progressive rock and shoegaze music.

Devil's Red
Starting with tasty bluegrass music, this works out to an
energized number that’s got folk and jam band sounds along with
that bluegrass texture.

Musical Chairs
Café music, folk and jazz all merge on this quirky, but tasty

Oh Lord
The musical concepts here aren’t greatly altered, but this is a
different tune, unique in its own right. It’s also the longest cut
here and there’s a bit of a blues element to it, although that’s
pretty minor. Around the five and a half minute mark it shifts out
to a completely new segment that’s more purely café music meets
bluegrass. Then it works to a rather progressive rock oriented

Final Mistake
Here is a folky sort of jam that’s quite tasty. It’s mellow and
perhaps not one of the strongest pieces here. Still, it gets kind of
intricate and pretty as it continues. - Music Street Journal

"Steal This Track: Jesse Manley and Mombi"

Oh, Monday! How you do beguile us. It’s time for another edition of Steal This Track, your weekly change to pilfer, purloin and pluck fresh new tracks from some of Colorado’s best and brightest musicians, absolutely gratis. For those of you whose Latin is a little rusty, that means free. This week, we have a banjo-based beauty from Jesse Manley and some ecstatic electronic folk from Mombi. Sometimes stealing is ok!

We’ve sung Jesse Manley’s praises before, and we’re not ashamed to do so again, especially with his first full-length album finally in the can and ready for release on April 29th. Though the young singer-songwriter sounds nothing like Slim Cessna or Munly, there’s a melodramatic darkness that he shares with those name brand Denver acts.

Montana-born Manley has been promising an album since he first hit my radar more than two years ago, but the wait has been worth it. The songs are complex without being overly complicated, the lyrics are evocative without being obvious, and the instrumentation is organic and varied. Banjo and mandolin figure prominently, but this is no bluegrass album. It’s mountain music, most definitely, but with a healthy dose of blues and indie rock. If there’s a single distinguishing feature of “Devil’s Red,” however, it’s Manley’s voice. With a subtle brogue, it conveys depth, melancholy and a wisdom that exists somewhere outside of our world.

Mark your calendar for some exciting upcoming events featuring Manley. First, he’ll be part of Ballet Nouveau Colorado’s Rarities and Oddities performance, which occurs Apr 22-24. Then, on Apr 29, he’ll be releasing the long-anticipated “Devil’s Red” at the Walnut Room, with Rachael Pollard and Radical Knitting Circle supporting. If that seems like too long to wait, you should probably steal “Oh Lord,” the album’s penultimate and longest track, right now.

- The Denver Post - Reverb

"Steal This Track: Goodbye Timebomb, Jesse Manley and Mike Marchant"

Singer-songwriter Jesse Manley inhabits an entirely different universe from David McGhee. Where McGhee’s touchstones are Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman and Kurt Cobain, Manley seems to look to Leadbelly, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Blind Willie McTell for inspiration. His no-frills folk music isn’t exactly what it appears to be on the surface. There’s a dark quality that will appeal to fans of Slim Cessna and Munly. There’s also a bluesy vibe that might turn you on if you like Reverend Deadeye. And even though the arrangements are minimal, there’s a sexy, dirty rock energy to Manley’s songs that’ll grab people who follow the Knew. Don’t believe us? Well, try stealing “Devil’s Red” and leave a comment if we aren’t on to something. - Denver Post

"Jesse Manley - A Gothic Folktale"

2014 Album of the Year - OndaRock - Gabriele Benzing

"Jesse Manley - Winter"

Top 10 albums of 2015 - OndaRock

"Buck Up. The Denver Holiday Season is Upon Us"

"The original composition, written by Denver Singer/Songwriter Jesse Manley is elegant and haunting, winding you into this sensual allegory of the season." - Huffington Post

"The Soundtrack: Listen to a Song Composed by Jesse Manley for Wonderbound's "Winter""

“The new tunes for Winter - which Manley and his band will play live during the performance - are studied and lively in a way that convinces the listener that they must have come from the soul of someone who has devoted his entire life to music.” - 5280 Magazine


  1. Devil's Red 2011
  2. A Path Through the Dark 2013
  3. A Gothic Folktale 2013
  4. Winter 2015
  5. Dust 2017




With the release of his critically acclaimed album Dust in March (press) and a collaboration with the Colorado Symphony and Wonderbound scheduled in May (MAYhem), Manley is poised for a break out year in 2017. A veteran songwriter, Manley has amassed a stunning catalogue of music over the last six years due in large part to his five celebrated collaborations with Artistic Director Garrett Ammon of the nationally recognized contemporary ballet company Wonderbound. Through these collaborations, Manley has explored a variety of folk technique and lyrical composition, resulting in an eclectic, yet unique voice as an artist and songwriter.

His sound has been described by audiences as "beautiful, jauntily melancholic, and unique" and by the Huffington Post as "elegant and haunting, winding you into this sensual allegory of the season.” OndaRock named Manley's music as one of the "Top 10 Albums of the Year" in 2015 and "Top Album of the Year" in 2014. Manley was nominated for Westword's Best Folk Music Award in 2014, and he was chosen as Best of 2014 by Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir.