John Wesley Harding - Trad Arr Jones

Trad Arr Jones

John Wesley Harding

(ZER CD 2210)

Zero Hour
14 West 23rd Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10010

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by David Schultz
(schultz@alum.mit.edu)

Joan Baez is my mother; Bob Dylan is my father; and I'm their bastard son. -John Wesley Harding, Bastard Son from Here Comes the Groom (1990).

The (tongue-in-cheek) bastard son of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan delivers his second album on Zero Hour Records, his first of entirely non-original material. Harding, born Wesley Harding Stace, sings a collection of traditional folk songs that were arranged, written, or rewritten by folk music legend Nic Jones, who has not performed in public since his 1982 car accident. The title derives its name from the writing credit found on most songs on Jones' out-of-print records. As Harding (or Wes, as he is known to his fans) writes in the liner notes, "Most of Nic Jones' records are impossible to find nowadays. . . . I wanted more people to hear them and this seemed like a good way. . . . These albums brought traditional music to life for me. Hence, this record."

Fans of Harding's usually biting sarcasm and more electric albums may find this album a bit hard to swallow, and traditional-music purists may dismiss this album as a knock-off by a wanna-be, but these would be extreme positions. Carefully listening to each song reveals that these songs have more in common with Harding's older material than might be perceived at first consideration.

Consider that Harding vehemently writes from nonpersonal perspectives: "I'd rather find things that I don't think *anybody* is writing about. I have a fairly tedious life, so writing from my life seldom interests me. What's more important is the imagination, so I prioritize the fictional." The traditional folk songs on Trad Arr Jones provide the perfect vehicle to sing fiction. "Trad Arr Jones is the first album I HAD to make. Ghosts, Sex, Murder: they're just like my songs only 400 years older," says Harding.

As expected, the album explores traditional themes in traditional styles. The album opens with The Singer's Request a celebratory, almost choral, piece. Little Musgrave is about sexual infidelity, told in the manner of a wandering minstrel. The upbeat staccato delivery William and Nancy's Parting belies the underlying prayer of Nancy as her lover is off to war. William Glenn is about a ship, traveling to New Barbary, on which problems abound (illness, bad weather) due to a murderer onboard. Accompanying himself with guitar, or aided by multi-instrumentalist Robert Lloyd, Harding delivers an uncomplicated album that boasts excellent sound quality and production.

The CD booklet does not contain lyrics, nor anything about the history of the songs, which would have been a nice addition to draw more attention to the rich history of this music. The booklet, however, is wonderfully, but simply, illustrated, containing vignettes of each of the songs on the album woven into a tapestry.

Traditional folk music fans will do well to get Trad Arr Jones and explore Nic Jones' work, as retold and made accessible by Harding; the album is faithful to the spirit of the music. Casual fans of Harding's contemporary folk-pop music may have a harder time embracing the album, as several careful listenings without the lyrics will be required to fully appreciate the work. The effort will be rewarded, particularly if viewed as an exploration of Harding's roots.

Watch for Wes on tour with Ellis Paul at selected venues during Spring 1999.

Track List:

  • The Singer's Request
  • Little Musgrave
  • The Golden Glove
  • Annachie Gordon
  • The Flandyke Shore
  • William and Nancy's Parting
  • William Glenn
  • The Bonny Bunch of Roses
  • Master Kilby
  • Annan Water
  • Isle of France

Edited by Kerry Bernard (yhkerry@shore.net)

Copyright 1999, Peterborough Folk Music Society and David Schultz.
This review may be reprinted with prior written permission and attribution.

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