Any review or article on Wesley Stace requires some exposure. The singer-songwriter began releasing albums under the nickname John Wesley Harding in 1988. He basically stuck in the ways of witty indie-folk (It happened one night, John Wesley Harding’s New Deal) or invigorating power-pop (Here is the groom, awake). Somewhere along the line, he found time to write four critically acclaimed novels, reverted to his first name, began hosting and organizing the much-loved Cabinet of Wonders (a “portable variety show” , as described in his press materials), and wrote the libretto for Errollyn Wallen’s opera The ghost of Dido, which premiered at the London Barbican last July.
That kind of artistic eclecticism is enough for two or three careers, easily (and that’s not to mention his teaching gigs at Princeton and Swarthmore and his freelance writing for the the Wall Street newspaper). But with his new album, Late style, Stace was determined to make an album with a different kind of sound, in a different way. Writing the lyrics himself, he hired his Cabinet of Wonders musical director David Nagler to write the music. Essentially, Stace’s Bernie Taupin has found his Elton John. While he is certainly no slouch as a songwriter, Stace felt that Nagler’s talents would be a perfect match for the musical vibe he was looking for. The result is something much more jazzy and exotic than anything he’s released before.
As Stace explains, the idea was “to find a new way to crack the egg of ‘gentleman-songwriter with a lot of lyrics,’ more specifically in a way that suits my voice, which never really does. provided the cut glass that rock needs, but it more accurately reflects what I actually listen for fun on the kitchen stereo while cooking, where it’s highly unlikely (no offense to those great songwriters ) to hear Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, etc. The album’s warm late-night feel even extends to the merch: Deluxe versions of the album include exclusive lowball glasses, coasters, and cocktail napkins with a unique drink recipe imprinted on them. .
With Late style, Stace figured out how to combine his vast lyrical spirit with engaging and timeless arrangements that break out of the somewhat stuffy (but still entertaining) folk traps of his previous work. With Nagler by his side, Stace cracked the code, resulting in his best album since the 2000s. The Confessions of Saint Ace. Late style is not just an album; it’s an atmosphere. The proof comes in the opening notes of the first song, “Where the Bands Are”, as Prairie Prince’s drums and Nagler’s piano create a late-night bar atmosphere with Latino overtones that makes people tremble. hips. Stace’s voice effortlessly glides through the arrangement, and her lyrics are generally full of clever references and vivid imagery. “And it’s like an apartment / Much more beautiful than yours,” he sings. “And the bathroom graffiti is by George Bernard Shaw.” Once Danny Cao’s delightfully bright and jazzy trumpet solo pops up, you know you’re not ready for the usual John Wesley Harding experience.
With “Everything All the Time”, Stace and Nagler take the Latin vibe even further, with the cooing backing vocals of Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor evoking a legitimate sensation of Sergio Mendes. But the folk nature of Stace’s previous albums still comes out every now and then: even with the brushed drums and jazzy vibes, “Hey! Director “, complemented by Stace’s muffled vocal performance, closely resembles the understated sound he played with on his 1992 album. Why we fight. In other words, Stace doesn’t awkwardly incorporate a new genre into his old sound, but instead found a way to make them coexist peacefully.
Latin sound isn’t really all Stace experiences Late style. With “The California Fix” he works in a light 60s pop frame like a lazy beat shuffle, and backing vocals accompany his Golden State tale packed with cultural references. “We ate at Bob’s Big Boy the night I arrived,” he sings. “Checked in at a motel, right off the plane / I never went home again. The song almost sounds like it could have been made into a movie starring Elliott Gould in 1972. “Well Done Everyone” has an almost comically upbeat feel, paired with Randy Newman-style lyrics that gleefully recount the destruction of our planet. . “We left the politics of superstition in control / We thought a fool could be fun / Well done everyone. “
Stace’s albums are always an embarrassment of richness, full of sharp, often hilarious words combined with sophisticated melodies. Late style is a natural next step in her discography, an album that doesn’t seem to work if you hear it described in conversation, but ultimately sounds warm and deeply engaging once the needle drops. “I think the world demands a bit of beauty and finesse from performers right now,” says Stace, “especially as we emerge from an era of scruffy zoom concerts. We all need a little elegance Spend the drinks and listen to the music.