John Wesley Harding Awake: The New Addition

Trad Arr Jones Awake: The New Addition

Harding watched these two fine releases die in the bins when they were issued in ’98 and ’99, victims of label downsizing. Happily, Appleseed has reissued them separately and has remastered and added bonus tracks to both. Taken together, they show Harding bending genres as he mines his own roots—combining folk with pop—and showing his songwriting chops. He also echoes the folk-rock era of Fairport Convention with a couple of terrific rollickers; they’re bonus tracks on Trad Arr Jones. That album is a tribute to English folkie Nic Jones, who died in a car accident in 1982, with traditional ballads like “Little Musgrave,” “Annachie Gordon” and “Isle of France” done using Jones’ arrangements. They’re all lovely, with Harding’s guitar, plus lilting accordion and mandolin from Jed Jedrzejewski. Jason Staczek’s Hammond organ adds a wonderfully Anglican feel to “Master Kilby” and “Isle of France.” The four bonus tracks—recorded last April in Harding’s adopted hometown, Seattle, with the Minstrel in the Galleries, an electric band—including “Cannadee-I-O,” and “Edward,” are zesty and will you have up and moving. Awake, the second reissue, features Harding originals embedded within his stunning guitar work with an overlay of vocals reminiscent of early Squeeze and the Beatles. It’s a lush, irresistible pop sound. Harding’s lyric sensibility lies somewhere between Elvis Costello and Aimee Mann, especially evident on “Your Ghost Don’t Scare Me No More,” the hilarious “Window Seat,” perfect for humming when boarding a jet for far-off places, and “Burn.” Awake’s bonus cuts include Harding singing an acoustic version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Jackson Cage” and a live-in-a-record store recording of a duet with the Boss on “Wreck on the Highway.” Both are superb. Last fall, Harding released The Confessions of St. Ace, but these re-releases delight the senses, engage the mind and should not be missed. Highly recommended.