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John Wesley Harding | The Confessions of St. Ace (Mammoth)
After the oh-so-faithful tribute to fellow Englishman Nic Jones (last year's Trad. Arr. Jones) The Confessions of St. Ace (a less-than-cryptic play on Harding's given name Wesley Stace) sees a triumphant return to his recent pop-forays, a further extension of his patchy Awake offering for the now defunct Zero Hour label. His signing to Mammoth has provided the necessary inpetus (and financial capability?) to put together a fine band who breathe plenty of life into a dozen fully-fledged pop novellas, another lyric notebook crammed to the margin with clever wordplay ("Goth girl who is the guy on the leash? Does he wash dishes? Goth girl, he looks like Pete Murphy to me, he wishes," one cool couplet in a song that also namechecks Nine Inch Nails), which, alongside his never-to-be-shaken English accent, mean Wes' songs never quite sound like anyone else (and this one should at last see an end to the Elvis Costello comparisons...well maybe). And, despite being recorded in Nashville and featuring the vocals of Jimmie Dale Gilmore and a duet with Steve Earle, the country element is a dash of bourbon in a Miller Lite pop fizz. Guests Chris von Sneidern and Young Fresh Fellows/Minus Five/REM mainstay Scott McGaughey help keep things at a distance from twangin' territory, whilst guitarist Gary Burnette (assisted by Rob Seidenberg) holds everything together with a uniformly punchy production.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000