BY BARRY ST. VITUS
I suspect that even the most musically exposed fan or writer would slam into a hard adobe wall trying to come up with a clear description of Coleman’s musical style. It’s a rather frustrating and challenging thing to nail down. His PRa gives a good shot at what it’s not…”John Wesley Coleman is not an outlaw, not Americana, barely a punker and not a garage rocker.” Suggesting then …”baroque power pop basement fringe.” Works for me. If that elicits a ‘meh’ from you, then know this, this latest drop is one of several he’s done since stepping away from 15 years with Austin’s notorious Golden Boys and doing shows with such notables as Roky Erickson, the Oblivians, L7, No Bunny, the Spider Bags and Ty Segal. That helps triangulate a bit on his own personal style and music, to some degree.
What truly makes Cuckoo Bird stand out, though, is who backed up this effort and produced it, Milwaukee’s own, JAILL, led by Vinnie Kircher, also the producer. This amounts to taking your rough diamond to the best gem cutter in the area to have it cut and polished. They totally get what he’s doing and give it wings to soar high.
The mood of the album leans a tad towards melancholy and wistfulness, but is far from being a downer. The flat-out creativeness of the band color the songs enough to distract from out-and- out sadness and lift the melodies. His voice leans towards lonely, country music singer territory, but has a warming, comforting feeling, that is emotionally embracing.
The album kicks off with “Kick It Again” a catchy little ditty that, like many of the numbers, sticks in your head. There’s simple electric piano and guitar that brings to mind a No Bunny, ‘50’s rock ‘n’ roll –flavored tune. “Weird Old World” effectively uses synthesizer and weird effects that make for an unusual sound. There’s a ”Dear Prudence” kind of thing going on in “We Speak In Charades,” starting right with the keyboards. It’s the first of quite a few songs that uses repetitive lyrics to good effect.
They get sort of an oddball thing going on mixing up a background of chimes, synth and bongos on “Another Face In the Crowd,” that meanders along, eccentrically. “Heaven” picks up the pace with its Farfisa organ and synth leading the way and is very typical of what Wes’s songs have generally sounded like in the past. It’s a contender for Best song in the collection.
His “All Over Now’ has a sultry mood to it as it glides along with a gooey Wurlitzer organ carrying it along, and his vocals going a bit Arthur Godfrey, if you get that reference. It’s rather nostalgic and one of the more interesting tunes here, again, thanks to the creative magic of JAILL. “Feel That Way” picks things up again and goes with the repetitive lyrics thing again, but pulls you right in, as it goes a little Samba by the end.
An interesting arrangement really adds props to “Baby I like Your Style,” which are pretty much all there is to the lyrics in this one. His thing with repetitive lyrics really build up a momentum on “Without Warning” and gets it rolling, making it another of the catchiest songs. “Beam With Us,” with its piano and subtle bongos rolls out like a ballad, which uses his voice to great effect. Finally, “Out The Window” really has the baroque thing happening with its strings underneath smoothing the way. This one really is wrapped in melancholy and gloom, accented with the cello behind it, while still remaining rather lovely.
I can hardly imagine anyone not liking this album, unless they are metal-heads or only into thrash, as Wes’s originality is a strong selling point, for one thing, and the impressive playing by the band really make it compelling listening. My only bone to pick might be that I would’ve enjoyed a couple more upbeat numbers in the mix to lift it out of it’s moodiness, but, all-in-all, this Cuckoo Bird sings some pretty good songs, feathering its nest with excellent playing and production.