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Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

John Wesley Harding

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Album Review

After 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 12th 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.

Biography

Born: October 22, 1965 in Hastings, East Sussex, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

John Wesley Harding may take his name from a Bob Dylan album and be a modern-day folksinger, but with the biting, cynical observations in his songs and a sharp sense of humor combined with winning melodies, he shows that his true forefathers are Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe with a hint of Billy Bragg. Far from being a follower or strict revivalist, however, Harding draws on a wide assortment of...
Full Bio