John Wesley Coleman III – Microwave Dreams
The opening song of John Wesley Coleman III’s latest album, “Shovel”, promises great things and the nine tracks after it deliver on that potential. The Texas-born singer/songwriter follows a wayward muse through a variety of musical styles, sometimes crossing genres with great results, and singing with unabashed enthusiasm and inspiration. He’s surrounded himself with a sympathetic supporting cast and strikes a natural chemistry on each song. Nothing here overextends itself or lingers long enough to bore the listeners – it’s loose and confident, but no matter how haphazard or ragged it pretends to be, the focus here never wavers. The production never has that high gloss sheen we commonly associate with albums from the majors, as few left as there are, but the production serves the songs in important ways. The moving around from one musical style to another is the sign of some potential magpie tendencies, but Coleman has great fluency with them all.
“Shovel” has a strongly indie rock vibe shot through with a little punk attitude. The aesthetic, as it comes off in Coleman’s songwriting, is more about total abandon to the moment rather than showing any hyper-concern for nailing the performances down to the last note. That inspired quality goes a long way. There’s a lot of that same inspired quality on “On the Couch Again”, a deceptively subtle tune that initially presents itself as being “about” certain things before unfolding further layers. Coleman’s vocal has great qualities. There’s a free, flowing feeling in his voice, but there’s also plenty of evidence for technique and the great musician in him who keenly listens to the music and sings appropriately. The unbridled rocker in Coleman comes bursting out on “Hang Tight”. It’s a hard-nosed bruiser quite unlike anything else on Microwave Dreams, but some come close.
“Jesus Never Went to Junior High” is, arguably, the album’s best song. It’s amazing to hear how some songwriters and musicians, with only a minimal amount of musical tools, can create a mini-universe where listeners fall, suspending judgment and disbelief entirely, into the singer’s world. A certain age group might prefer this cut more so than others, but any audience with open ears will hear the artistry that makes this work so well. Ambient sounds of nature, chirping birds, open “Scarecrow Smile” before Coleman’s voice and acoustic guitar enter. It’s all prelude though. The full band soon enters with a slow-moving, spectral grace with gradually mounting intensity. The delightfully crazed shuffle-style rock and roll of “Black Kite” gets a great, cockeyed vocal from Coleman and ends with some deconstructionist guitar before the song, for all intents and purposes, simply falls apart. “Exotic Tambourine” has a great, surging rock groove that’s reminiscent of “Hang Tight”, but much cleaner and less chaotic.
The album’s final songs “See You Tomorrow” and “We Care About Love” contrast dramatically. The first of the two is a much more theatrical, studied affair, but it still feels like a natural rather than labored performance. “We Care About Love”, however, is a brilliantly rousing finale that few will expect, but his piano playing and ebullient vocal have more rock and roll spirit, arguably, than any of the preceding tracks. Microwave Dreams is an album full of possibilities and John Wesley Coleman III realizes them all.
9 out of 10 stars.
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