John Wesley Harding

The Sound of His Own Voice

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Now that he's used to living a double life as a musician and a novelist (publishing three books under his given name, Wesley Stace), John Wesley Harding has become more comfortable with leaving his most serious side on the printed page, and while his tenth studio album, The Sound of His Own Voice, shows he still has a point of view and no shyness about expressing it, from a musical standpoint, this is one of his most engaging pieces of pop songcraft since he burst onto the scene with Here Comes the Groom in 1989. Scott McCaughey (who played on Harding's 2009 effort, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead) co-produced The Sound of His Own Voice with the singer and songwriter, and he brought in an impressive variety of collaborators for these sessions, including Peter Buck, Rosanne Cash, and John Moen, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, and Nate Query of the Decemberists, and the results are beautifully crafted and entertainingly eclectic, encompassing the jaunty folk-rock of "Uncle Dad," the nervy rock & roll of "Calling Off the Experiment," the R&B underpinnings of "I Should Have Stopped," and the epic scale finale "The World in Song." Harding's literary efforts have helped hone his already impressive gifts as a lyricist, but while his storytelling is sharp and his wordplay more than clever, he's gained an appreciation for human vulnerabilities that give these songs a warmth even when he points a deserving finger, and his lyrics dovetail well with the expansive (but never overbearing) production and arrangements. There's an amusing irony in the fact that Harding has gotten better at making records now that he's doing it part time, but The Sound of His Own Voice is not only stronger in every respect than Who Was Changed…, it's one of the most consistently satisfying albums of his career, and sounds more like the proper follow-up to the excellent Here Comes the Groom than anything he's made since.

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