Wesley Stace kicks off this album with the song "I Don't Wanna Rock 'n' Roll," and it fits rather well as a mission statement. Wesley Stace's John Wesley Harding finds the artist formerly filed under H reaffirming the new handle (the one he received at birth) that he embraced with his 2013 album, Self-Titled. It also seems Stace is walking back a bit from the more rambunctious side of his musical personality that dominated his early work as John Wesley Harding. The respected novelist and part-time musician Wesley Stace takes a more subtle approach than JWH. The backing on this album, provided by the Jayhawks, is skillful and sympathetic throughout, and honestly lively when need be, especially when Gary Louris hits the distortion pedal. But his album sounds surprisingly gentle most of the time, and Stace's vocals have a softer edge than in the days when he was a angrier young man. As a performer and lyricist, Stace sounds more mature these days, which is a not a polite way of saying he shows his age. Bitterness has given way to rueful acceptance on numbers like "You're a Song" and "The Wilderness Years," and the man who once chased stardom now sounds honestly satisfied to perform for an "Audience of One." Just as importantly, there's a genuine gratitude in his songs about love, particularly "Let's Evaporate" and "How to Fall," that befits a man who has had his heart broken a few times and learned from it. Wesley Stace's John Wesley Harding is more the work of the former than the latter, but that's not a bad thing; Stace still has the lyrical facility and way with a melody that made Harding a potential Next Big Thing in the '90s, while also gaining some seasoning that shows he's not simply chasing past glories.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming