John Wesley Harding
The Confessions of St. Ace
First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2000, Volume 7, #12
Written by John Metzger
Despite his early power pop beginnings, John Wesley Harding always has been a folk artist at heart. Over the past few years, he's leaned increasingly more in this direction, even forgoing a backing band for most of his tours to perform in a solo setting.
Now, it appears that Harding has concluded — at least temporarily — the folk stage of his career after releasing Trad Arr Jones, a superb collection of traditional songs written or arranged by Nic Jones. On his latest outing The Confessions of St. Ace, he slams the door on his acoustic tendencies and returns to the power pop musings of his earliest albums. While those earlier efforts often drew comparisons to Elvis Costello, Harding's latest release pulls from a variety of influences. I'm Wrong about Everything merges gospel and pop; The Beatles pervade virtually every song from the Day in the Life piano intro to Humble Bee to the backing vocals of She's a Piece of Work; Goth Girl borrows from David Bowie to cook over its bed of tumultuously fuzzy-guitars; Same Piece of Air wafts over wispy strains reminiscent of Steve Earle; and there's a point during People Love to Watch You Die when Harding leads his group through a very Chicago-like chord progression.
The highlights from The Confessions of St. Ace are Bad Dream Baby and Our Lady of the Highways. On the former, Jimmie Dale Gilmore makes a hauntingly nightmarish guest appearance, while on the latter Harding is joined by Earle for what sounds like a lost outtake from Transcendental Blues.
For those who have kept tabs on Harding in recent years, The Confessions of St. Ace, may come as a bit of a shock. Nevertheless, it's well worth giving this one a chance. While it lacks the cohesiveness of Awake and the songwriting prowess of some of Harding's other albums, The Confessions of St. Ace is still an exquisite collection of memorable melodies. As such, it contains some of the most satisfying power pop recordings that Harding has ever made. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box