John Wesley Harding

Here Comes the Groom/The Name Above the Title

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All over the lauded album Here Comes the Groom, John Wesley Harding proved that he was a songwriter with considerable craft for irresistible hooks bent around wisdom and humor. The title track to that album and other songs like "Cathy's New Clown," "The Devil in Me," and "Nothing I'd Rather Do" critically lined Harding up next to wordsmith Elvis Costello, not only because of his aforementioned songwriter traits, but also because Harding had taken a page out of Costello's book when it came to vocal delivery and inflection and then further cemented the comparison by hiring Bruce Thomas and Pete Thomas of the Attractions as his rhythm section. When it came time for a follow-up, Harding put together a similar band, again including the Attractions' rhythm section, but focused more on scratching broader strokes into the manuscript paper for richer arrangements and deeper melodic development. The result was The Name Above the Title, and because there were no immediately catchy supersingles, the album was considered as a bit of a letdown, though that is not entirely fair -- most artists strive their entire careers to write songs as clever as "The Movie of Your Life" and "Fifty Fifty Split." The truth is that Harding had created such a stink with his major-label debut that there was little he could've released that would garner as many glowing reviews, and in a strange way, this makes Collectables' decision to release these two albums packaged together on two discs intriguing. Their decision to do so is nice for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, these two records were put back in print again after being unavailable for a while. Second, having these two albums side by side forces the necessity to reconsider what is great about them and their relationship to one another. Anyone who may have skipped over The Name Above the Title due to the unfortunate reputation of being a second-rate album will now be forced to take it home for a listen (the two-disc set is priced as a single disc, so there's nothing to lose) even if all one wanted was Here Comes the Groom. Both albums still sound fantastic, and if anything, The Name Above the Title has benefited from the test of time solely because it can now be listened to as an exploratory album for Harding instead of just a follow up to the fantastic Here Comes the Groom. Here Comes the Groom/The Name Above the Title now serves as the slight progression made between two albums, and while this release only creates a two-point arrow toward what Harding was to craft later, listening to both albums back to back maps the beginning of the path that would later transcend the constant Costello comparisons and lead to his fine later work like Awake.

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