John Wesley Harding's New Deal

John Wesley Harding

Rhino, 1996

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on April 2, 1996]

If Billy Preston was the fifth Beatle, which one was John Wesley Harding? my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

He's a generation late to be a real suspect, yet it's not surprising he wrote a song a ways back called "When the Beatles Hit America," given that his 1996 release, John Wesley Harding's New Deal, at times sounds like outtakes from an apocryphal George Harrison - John Lennon side project, circa Abbey Road. With his sweetly expressive acoustic guitar playing, fondness for layering Hammond organ and an occasional cello on top, and wry, often pointed lyrics, Harding wraps Harrison's melodic sensibilities and Lennon's in-your-face wit around a set of very 1996 songs.

Harding opened both Berkeley shows in Bruce Springsteen's ’96 solo acoustic tour behind The Ghost Of Tom Joad, and it's not hard to see how he earned the honor of being the Boss's first opening act in twenty years. Despite the presence of supporting players on keyboards, bass, drums and strings on "New Deal," Harding has the vocal and instrumental chops to stand up well solo, and songs like "The Triumph of Trash" demonstrate the same fierce sincerity found on Ghost, with a healthy dose of sarcasm thrown in for leavening.

Lyrically, Harding is consistently clever and original: tunes like "Kiss Me, Miss Liberty," "God Lives Upstairs," "Cupid and Psycho," "The Speed of Normal," and the wonderful, hauntingly Lennonesque "To Whom It May Concern" brim with unconsidered points of view and knife-sharp turns of phrase. Produced by Harding with Chris von Sneidern, John Wesley Harding's New Deal offers up a hearty helping of smart, melodic modern folk-pop. Dig in and enjoy.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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