BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Shedding his longtime pseudonym — John Wesley Harding — the man behind the music, Wesley Stace, reverts to his real name and, in a sense, revisits his past. An acknowledgment of what’s always been his “other” identity — that of author, radio host, and educator… in tandem with his day job as a singer/songwriter of eminent pop stature — Stace/Harding goes literate and literal with this generous sixteen song set, humbly titled Self-Titled. Yet, rather than flaunt his many skills, Stace generally maintains low-lit appeal, drifting subtly and softly with an exceedingly smooth croon.
Still, homilies and humility don’t necessarily allow for the most emphatic of impressions, and while Stace’s agile approach is both pleasant and personable, it doesn’t come close to the persuasive pop created under the guise of his earlier identity. Happily then, a closer listen yields treasures among the tender touches, most holding to a first person point of view. “We Will Always Have New York” provides a cinematic touch, a tale of two lovers intersecting with some of the city’s iconic landmarks. “Lydia” is intriguing and revealing, an homage to a former lover who played a crucial role in the singer’s personal and professional evolution. “I was once in my prime/Now I cry all the time/You were my Waterloo,” Stace laments over a soft bed of strings. “Stare at the Sun” more or less mirrors the same arrangements, pretty yet purposeful all at the same time.
That autobiographical streak remains consistent throughout, with songs such as “A Canterbury Kiss” and “Pieces of the Past” namedropping early musical heroes and sharing in their discovery. What ultimately emerges is an intimate portrait of an artist flush with inspiration, looking through a rearview mirror and gazing in amazement as the distance falls away.
DOWNLOAD: “We Will Always Have New York,” “Lydia,” “Stare at the Sun”