The King is Dead; Long Live the King
We all go through changes. These transitions from who we were to who we are now often define our lives; they are the way-posts by which we measure the passage of time. For John Wesley Harding, recognizing his latest iteration means a whole new name-– giving up the stage name Harding (named for a Bob Dylan song) and returning to his given name, Wesley Stace. As his website states, his songs have become more autobiographical, and “it seemed ridiculous to sing them under any name but my own.” His new album, Self-Titled is a simple, elegant collection of memorable tunes that leaves the listener hoping his recent changes are permanent.
Stace’s calm, relaxed baritone sings emotionally of life and relationships throughout the album, without ever trying to do too much. His simple folk-pop approach to the three-minute song format is always new and interesting and at the same time, familiar. Shades of Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens and The Beatles (he’s English after all) enter and exit the entire piece, without being mere cloned material. Indeed, his own brand of storytelling shines through each track, with simple instrumentations of acoustic guitar, bass and organ. Sparsely arranged strings, drums and a few plugged in guitars are employed deftly and only where needed.
There is not enough space here to review all sixteen tracks of the CD and double-LP available from Yep Roc Records, but some of the best tracks include the folky “The Dealer’s Daughter,” the beautifully British-Invasion inspired “Goodbye Jane” and the slightly uptempo “A Canterbury Kiss,” featuring a nice mellow Hendrix-inspired guitar lick and hook. There are some pretty ballads, the best of which are “Letting Go” and “The Bedroom You Grew Up In,” where Stace shows off the best part of his songwriting mastery. Perhaps Stace could have left a few tracks off the album that don’t measure up to the others (including the indulgent “Excalibur”), but at this stage in his career he has earned the right to record as he likes.
At his best, Wesley Stace has redefined who he is and how to translate that into songs that reach his listeners in the truest sense of art-– that “aha” moment when (as Plato once said) “Music gives soul to the universe.” We should all be so lucky; until then, we should be listening to albums like Wesley Stace for inspiration.