Thursday, February 3, 2011
NOT THAT JOHN WESLEY HARDING...THE OTHER ONE
I discovered John Wesley Harding in a cutout bin in Newington, Connecticut in the early 90's. I forget the name of the store now, but I used to stop in every Saturday, like clockwork.
The album was "Here Comes The Groom," and I thought, "for two bucks, why not?" That's how you end up with a room full of CD's. It's buying those unheard of CD's just because they're cheap. This one was a pleasant surprise, a folk-rock album with catchy songs sung in a voice that reminded me of a not-so-angry Elvis Costello (his band even included Pete Thomas and Bruce Thomas from Costello's Attractions) pretending to be Bob Dylan. I've been a fan ever since.
Over the past decade, JWH has alternated between his music career and working as an author (he's published two books), but has still managed to release an album here and there. He released two albums in 2010, two separate collections of acoustic outtakes entitled "John Wesley Harding Sings To A Small Guitar Volumes I and II"
With the length of time between releases, you get to thinking that the well might be running dry. Right about then, here comes not one, but two collections of well-crafted songs. Granted, many of these have been written over the years, and are presented with very sparse instrumentation (guitar, voice, occasional harmonics), but the lyrics are classic JWH: acerbic and keenly observant. Harding has done little to change his folk-rock template in terms of songwriting and singing, but somehow still finds a way to make an a couple of discs worth of bright, sparkling folk-rock and pop with a sharp wit and just enough cynical undertones to keep things interesting. As with any compilation of this type, there are gems, near misses and even a little filler; the gems outweigh the other.