Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wesley Stace, Where Have I Been All Your Life?

My friend and band mate, John Dunbar has been singing the praises of Wesley Stace, AKA John Wesley Harding for as long as I've known him. To say I've resisted wouldn't be quite accurate.  I bought JWH's full length debut "It Happened One Night" back in '88 and liked it enough to buy his next three. But I never fell in love with any of those records. There was something about his voice that bothered me. It's hard to explain, the same way I can't explain why I don't like Teenage Fanclub other than, every song sounds the same, or why I hate the sound of a Fender Rhodes piano. I just know, it'd be a turn off, even if Beethoven was giving me a personal recital on it.

By the time he started using his real name, and got a deal with Yep Roc records, there were way too many JWH/WS records to catch up with, and the occasional song I did hear, failed to grab me long enough to convince me, though "There's A Starbucks (Where The Starbucks Used To Be)" is quite brilliant. Plus, I've been following him on Instagram. Stace is an avid record collector and posts some terrific pics and often hilarious commentary of records he has purchased, as well as anything he thinks is worthy of snapping and chatting about. I was loving his Instagram feed more than his music.

Then I found a cheap vinyl copy of his most recent Yep Roc release, "Wesley's Stace's John Wesley Harding," which like the most recent Ray Davies, has The Jayhawks backing him up. (You know where I am headed, don't you?)

30 years later, including the 6 months or so after the initial release of this new record, and now I am just slightly obsessed with catching up on all things Wesley Stace. I love this record. I fell like a sack of rocks at the opening tune, "I Don't Wanna Rock And Roll."

"I'm hanging up my leather jacket/my backstage passes and my laminates
Take my name up off the list/I've seen the show, I've got the gist
No more purchasing of merchandise/someone else can do your advertising
Every day another debut/I'll find something new to do cause...
I don't wanna rock and roll no more"

I've been feeling this for years, only my version doesn't have The Jayhawks harmonizing behind me.

Just about every song has something to hold onto, and unlike "Americana," which I have not gone back to since it came out, I think The Jayhawks lend themselves better to JWH's voice than to Ray Davies, and this new-ish release has been doing hard time on my turntable.

"You're a song and someone else is singing you now"

Man, I wish I had written that line.

For those who already know what I have been missing for years, it is time for me to catch up. But if like me, you never found a minute to listen to John Wesley Stace Harding, try out this new record and let me know what you think.


Squints said...

You know that line of Billy Bragg's at the end of his monologue over the melody to "Walk Away Renee?"

"Then she changed her hair and I stopped loving her."

It's like the reverse of that.

I had a similar experience with an act that had never really grabbed me until about 10-15 years ago, when suddenly it fell into place. It's a measure of how bought in I am to said act that its name escapes me.

I have this experience more often with specific albums. Marshall Crenshaw's "Field Day," except for the obvious hit, never really did much for me, until I had it my car in 2000 or so and just all of a sudden I got it.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I liked how "I Don't Wanna Rock And Roll" hints at "Rock N Roll With Me".

“Better Tell No One Your Dreams” recalls Dire Straits, then gets more interesting.

Nicely done.

I could never get past someone calling themselves John Wesley Harding. It struck as an artistic choice so wrongheaded that I saw no reason to look further.
Besides I was deep into De La Soul, and didn't have time for singer-songwriters.
Still don't.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I'm a fan & have many of his albums, but the Davies/Hawks album scared me off.

Michael Giltz said...

Hilariously, when I typed in his name to check out the album on Spotify, Wesley called up not Stace but Wesley Safadao. No love, even from the Spotify algorithm. I always try to keep an open mind on artists. You never know when an actor you thought was bad will find the right role. When Curtis Hanson co-wrote and directed the great film LA Confidential, you could have knocked me over with a feather, given some of the really bad movies (and no good ones) he'd made before it. I mean, most of the time, an act you don't like isn't gonna get better or surprise you. And you probably return to some and give them another chance because like JWH or Richard Thompson or whomever, they have ardent fans you respect. But still, you weren't wrong to not be excited before. It just happens when it happens. It has happened to me too and it's always fun: "Oh there you are!" you say to an act standing right in front of you all these years. And having never spent much time on him, I'm giving it a whirl again too.

Bulletins From Mars Hill said...

Thanks for pointing this out. I had seen it when it was released and dissmissed it as nothing of interest. The opening lines of the first track had the same effect on me as it had on you. I got the album right away and love it.

Bill said...

"And you probably return to some and give them another chance because like JWH or Richard Thompson or whomever, they have ardent fans you respect. But still, you weren't wrong to not be excited before."

This reminds me of the night many youthful years ago when in one night I saw Richard Thompson and his band play at the Beacon, I think, then my friend and i hopped the downtown train to catch John Wesley Harding's late show at the Bottom Line. Good music times in New York.

hpunch said...

I love this album. But I've been a fan since day one.