Review : John Wesley Harding - Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead
AllmusicAfter releasing the album Adam's Apple in 2004, John Wesley Harding took a step back from his career in music, publishing two novels under his given name Wesley Stace, but after a five-year layoff, Harding returned to the recording studio to make his twelfth album, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, and it's not difficult to hear the influence of Harding's literary career in this batch of songs. Harding has always been a clever tunesmith who's consistently shown a way with words since he released his first album in 1988, but Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead reveals a greater maturity and lyrical polish than much of his previous work. The playful arrogance of Harding's early albums has faded in favor of witty but pointed meditations on the failings of both God and man, with the former receiving a few well-aimed satirical pokes on "A Very Sorry Saint" and "Congratulations (On Your Hallucinations)," and several specimens of the latter examined in "Sleepy People," "Sick Organism," and "The End." This set confirms Harding's craft is as strong as ever while the lyrics cut deeper into the personal and philosophical puzzlements that confound his characters while displaying a genuine compassion for their foibles, and Harding's vocals are graceful while his instrument sounds as flexible as ever. The Minus Five (including Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey) back up Harding on Who Was Changed, and while the quirkier side of their musical personality doesn't get an airing here, they prove once again that they're gifted and versatile musicians who mould their talents to this music with skill and confidence, and the eternally underappreciated Kelly Hogan pitches in with some lovely backing vocals; from a musical standpoint, this may be the most pleasing album Harding has made since his first studio effort, Here Comes the Groom. And "Top of the Bottom" is a quite funny and not entirely inaccurate bit of twisted autobiography, chronicling Harding's musical career to date. Maturity suits John Wesley Harding better than one might have expected in the early '90s, and Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead is good enough that he should consider taking more time away from his literary labors as soon as possible. [Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead was also released in a special edition with a bonus live disc entitled "Don't Look Back Now." The disc documents an acoustic show in which Harding revisits 11 favorites from his back catalog, along with one tune from Who Was Changed. Harding receives splendid accompaniment from Robert Lloyd on mandolin, Deni Bonet on violin, and Josh Ritter, who duets with Harding on "Our Lady of the Highways," and the star of the show digs into the material with a subtle passion and confidence that keep these songs sounding as fresh as then they were first recorded. These acoustic interpretations are a few notches short of revelatory, but longtime fans will find them well worth searching out on the deluxe edition of Who Was Changed.)...full text
BillboardJohn Wesley Harding is not making a modest comeback. Returning to recording after publishing a pair of books ("Misfortune," "by George"), the British-born troubadour has enlisted an impressive support cast for his 14th album, using the Minus Five as his primary band and such musicians as Kelly Hogan, Earl Slick, Candy Butchers' Mike Viola and Los Lobos' Steve Berlin as featured guests. The resulting tracks are all over the musical map—some "Revolver"-era Beatles here, a bit of early Elvis Costello there, with country, Greenwich Village folk and Bacharach-style classicism to boot. Harding's lyrics are typically wry and acerbic, with plenty of narrative twists: A street busker gets busted for necrophilia in "Top of the Bottom" and God serenades Satan in "My Favourite Angel." It's a rich, engaging set that reveals something new with each listen. —Gary Graff...full text
Latimesblogs.“Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead” isn’t a mash note to the hungry readers savoring David Foster Wallace’s posthumous New Yorker piece, then the Lannan Foundation needs to start giving grants to musicians.
In the books world, neo-folkie John Wesley Harding is known as author Wesley Stace, whose novel, "Misfortune," was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. On "Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead," his 10th record and first since 2004 -- when he broke to write "Misfortune" and "by George" -- Harding continues to dispatch a novelist's battalion of crisp metaphors, poetic digressions and screwball characters....full text
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