John Wesley Harding
GREATEST OTHER PEOPLE’S HITS
Imaginative and Intriguing Set of Covers From Roots-Rock’s Renaissance Man.
Here we go again; I was sure I had at least one album by John Wesley Harding aka Wesley Stace; but it appears not as all I could find was a dusty copy of the *album Bob Dylan made in his honour in 1967.
So it’s been something of a musical joyride in a stolen car, that I’ve been playing this album of cover versions and collaborations by Root’s Musics favourite Renaissance Man, recorded over the last thirty or so years.
With not a lot to go on the first few seconds of opening track, Roky Erickson’s If You Have Ghosts scared me; as the feedbacky sound effects made me think I was entering some kind of Pink Floyd Meddle territory; but hey…..NO…..we actually get a really cool, almost Indie inspired Alt. Something, few minutes that made my chest tighten with delight.
As there are 29 years between the first and last song recorded here; coupled to Harding’s abstract collaborations mean the mood, tempo and even style jump around like a cat on a hot tin roof; but it also shows what an inspired and inspirational artiste this guy is.
I don’t know all of the bands and singers JWH joins up with but Star (with Fastball) is another tightly wrapped Indie doozy; and his version of Phil Ochs’ Another Age is almost Beatlesesque circa Revolver, but it’s his heart shredding ‘folk’ songs that initially captured my attention with Covered Up In Ages (with and by Elizabeth Barraclough) making me raise my eyebrows in amazement and the previously unreleased Old Bourbon with Rick Moody (?) was an early contender for ‘Favourite Track’ status as the vocals remind me a bit of Liverpool legend Ian McNabb, of whom I’m a fanboy.
The clever way Harding has constructed the album means that just as you think you are getting a handle on him; he throws a curve ball of **Sandy Koufax proportions. The Hip-Hop version of Serge Gainsbourg’s Je Suis Ventu Te Dire Que Je M’en Vais anyone? In this context alongside George Harrison’s Wah Wah kind of works; but I can comfortably go the rest of my life without hearing either again.
WH has some very famous mates; starting with Lou Reed; yep you heard me right…..there are two of his songs here Think It Over is another previously unreleased track; and quite beautiful in the way he sings it over primarily a 12 string guitar and organ; and that didn’t prepare me for the collaboration with Laughing Lou which follows; a live and raw version of Satellite of Love that may even have been what Lou had in mind when he first recorded it all of those years ago.
His other ‘famous mate’ is the one that will probably get this album coverage in all the National papers and website.
Early on Harding strips back and adds a violin to Jackson Cage making it almost Alt. Country and even a bit of a romantic tear jerker; but later I was taken aback when Bruce’s own distinctive voice joined John on an intimate version of Wreck on the Highway. Intriguingly it’s mixed from a soundboard and an audience member’s tape at a McCabe’s Guitar Shop show in 2000.
The song that first brought JWH to the public’s attention is here too and, yes I can certainly enjoy hearing him strip Madonna’s Like a Prayer back to the bone and sinews over and over again. It’s absolutely stunning.
So, after all of that hyperbole what could possibly top rare Bruce and Lou collaborations or the Madonna and Elizabeth Barraclough songs?
Well; it’s a song I already possess and one of my favourite ever Bloodshot recordings; Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe which finds JWH trying to keep up with the only woman I would leave Mrs Magpie for; Miss Kelly Hogan.
John Wesley Harding sounds quite excellent here; but hearing Kelly’s beautiful tones swoop and soar as a gentle guitar, mandolin and accordion drift along in the background will bring a tear to a glass eye.
While the songs here are varied and even contrary at times; there’s certainly been enough for me to want to dip into John Wesley Harding’s 20+ back catalogue to hear his own work; and I presume his legion of fans will love this release ‘just because.’
PS 10 of these tracks were originally released as Record Day ‘only’ on April 21st 2018; but such was demand a further 7 have been added for this more commercial release.
*That’s a joke btw!
** I Googled him to make my metaphor fit.
Released 18th May 2018