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John Wesley Harding: Greatest Other People's Hits

Doug Collette By

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In keeping with his adopted moniker, John Wesley Harding, nee Wes Stace, has too often been a bit too clever in penning original material from his position in the circle of late Seventies-early Eighties songwriters including Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. As a result, his regular choice of cover material has simultaneously functioned as a respite from that unfortunate phenomenon and (re)affirmation he did indeed recognize the essential attributes of a well-wrought composition. Greatest Other People's Hits underlines that point even as it comes off as somewhat of a novelty item.

Nevertheless, self-styled collectors, fans of the man and otherwise, will no doubt find this entry into the JWH discography worthwhile. When Peter Buck's twelve-string chimes in on "Words Words Words," the of R.E.M. guitarist helps reaffirm the implicit message of the opening track, Roky Erickson's "If You Have Ghosts:" this is an assemblage of songs through which Stace speaks, likewise arranged to reflect his personal preferences. So, whatever the source of the material, it's in folk-rock mode with few exceptions, notable among which is Serge Gainsbourg's "Je Suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M'en Vais," featuring Wes on acoustic guitar and co-producer/engineer Joe Gore on 'everything else,' including all manner of keyboards and (electronic?) drums. Otherwise, there are few surprises, whether rarities like Lou Reed's ( "Think It Over"), unreleased cuts such as George Harrison's "Wah Wah" or artist tributes on the order of Bruce Springsteen's "Jackson Cage."

There's also a cull from the anthology What's That I Hear: The Songs of Phil Ochs ("Another Age). So, given the comparably roots-oriented inclusion of "Words Words Words," from If I Had A Song...The Songs of Pete Seeger, the omission of any Bob Dylan here is glaring; perhaps thinking his adopted moniker is homage aplenty, JWH may regard his solo acoustic rendition of Madonna's "Like A Prayer" as preferable stylistic homage. It is certainly a more forthright performance than many here, the most memorable of which moments are, not surprisingly, ones he shares with certain select authors: the titular leader of the Velvet Underground on "Satellite of Love and The Boss' "Wreck on the Highway,"

Otherwise, Greatest Other People's Hits too often comes off as an exercise in obscurity for its own sake. Extensive notes, only available on-line, aren't even referenced in the enclosed eight-page booklet and while the underlying intent there may simply be cost-effective packaging on the label's part, that decision ultimately suggests dilettantism. To be fair, there is some measure of eclectic reach within these seventeen tracks (increased from the ten in the original Record Store Day issue), and the sequence enhances the pacing.

But even as the insistent rock of "Another Age" contrasts effectively with the chorale of "Bendictus," the irony in Wes Stace's espousal of idealism dissipates quicker than that element of the album title. It is, to be sure, a far cry from the passion he shares in singing this tune of Conway Twitty's, "It Only Makes Me Believe," with Kelly Hogan and while that duet provides some respite from John Wesley Harding's all-too obvious vocal similarity to that other self-created persona, the aforementioned alias of Declan McManus. It is nonetheless another selling point, albeit a subliminal one and hopefully, it serves at least indirectly as a point of departure for listeners to delve into those bodies of work created by the artists covered on Greatest Other People's Hits.

Track Listing: If You Have Ghosts; Words Words Words; Star; Je Suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M’en Vais; Jackson Cage Storyteller; Need I Know; It’s Only Make Believe; Old Bourbon; Benedictus; Another Age; Wah Wah; Wreck On The Highway; Covered Up In Aces; Think It Over; Satellite Of Love; Like A Prayer.

Personnel: Wesley Stace: vocals, acoustic guitar, bouzouki, tambourine; Steve Donelly: guitar; Scott McCaughey: vocal, acoustic guitar, twelve-string guitar, baritone guitar, organ, bass, darbuk, tambourine, potato shaker; Lou Reed: vocal, electric guitar; Mike Rathke: electric guitar; Bruce Springsteen: vocals, acoustic guitar; Eric Bazilian: vocal, guitars, bass, keyboards, mandola, drums; Art Hays: electric guitar; David Nagler: electric guitar; Clint Newman: acoustic guitar; Miles Zuniga: electric guitar, vocal; Peter Buck: bass, twelve-string guitar John Ramberg: electric guitar; baritone guitar; Robert Lloyd: accordion, mandolin; Ferdy Doernberg: dobro, lapsteel, organ; Kenny Craddock: organ; Barney McAll: keybords; Carrie Bradley: violin; Chris Von Sneidern: guitar, bass, shaker, percussion, harmony vocal; J. Walker Hawkes: trombone; Sean Sonderegger: tenor sax; Phil Rodriguez: trumpet; Tony Scalzo: bass; Peter Strauss: bass; Rob Wasserman: bass; Bruce Thomas: bass; Jonathan Maron: bass; Adam Gold: drums; Robert Di Pietro: drums; Pete Thomas: drums; Steve Bowman: drums; Joey Sheffield: drums; Joe Gore: various instruments; Andy Paley & The Ghost choir: background vocals; Kelly Hogan: vocal; Rick Moody: vocal; Greta Gertler: backing vocal, tambourine; Dayna Kurtz: backing vocal, tambourine.

Title: Greatest Other People's Hits | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Omnivore Recordings

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