John Wesley Coleman III’s ride through the hinterlands of modern popular music, the DIY land where corporate conglomerates hold no sway and the dint of hustle and hard work must accompany artistic inspiration, is resulting in one of the most impressive discographies from any modern musical artist. It reads like steep praise. Some of us might say, well, if he’s that good, why haven’t I heard about him until now? We live in such a fragmented age, sound and fury signifying nothing vying for our dwindling attentions, and are losing the ability to hear that voice at the back of the crowd who deserving our ear. His latest release, Microwave Dreams, is a collection of songs justifying the earlier plaudits and signals Coleman’s talents are only widening with each new release. This is the sound of an artist entering the prime of his output.
There is still a certain amount of inventiveness for the sake of. The lightly applied guitar and post-production effects on “Shovel” smack a bit of preciousness since they add nothing significant to the song, but flaws like this have no ultimate effect on quality. It’s Coleman’s vocal, lyric, and how well tailored these elements are to the musical backing that makes this such an effective opening curtain. Coleman is no Pavarotti or Freddie Mercury, but his vocals on “Shovel” overflows with beautifully ragged and, occasionally, profane emotion. “On the Couch Again” rejects Microwave Dreams’ recurring stylistic inflections for a loose, laidback alt-country vibe and an even better lyric. It’s quite an effective contrast with the fried chords and evocatively slumming lead guitar lines in “Shovel”. His pastiche of golden oldies on “Jesus Never Went to Junior High” is one of the album’s high points. It has a swinging, very danceable beat that opens the song, sensitive vocals, and a compositional approach in the arrangement rather than any spotlight instrumental moments.
The muted opening for “Scarecrow Smile” doesn’t last long. Coleman’s talent for building a dynamic musical experience gets a full venting with this track. He brings keyboards, delicate guitar work, and steady drumming together with a lyric that has a strong storytelling thrust. Reviews can bandy around descriptive adjectives about his singing style with varying degrees of success, but no one builds a successful body of work as a singer/songwriter without mastering some measure of technique along the way. Idiosyncratic or otherwise.The rambunctious organ backing up the drums and guitar on “Exotic Tambourine” helps makes this pop music with a sharp, glassy edge and Coleman gives a buoyant vocal. There’s a dark simmering quality carrying “See You Tomorrow” and his hushed, carefully crafted vocal has warmth and unaffected gravitas. “We Care About Love” has an unexpected joyful quality and opens with Coleman singing with only a piano accompanying him. It swings, rollicks, and ratchets up into a thrilling second gear with the entrance of a full band just after the one minute mark.
It’s hard to sum this thing up. Coleman covers so many bases with startling effortlessness it isn’t hard to idly wonder if he isn’t one of the greatest songwriters working today, any genre. There’s scarcely a hint of self indulgence in these performers and the songwriting and you can forgive what few instances you hear. Microwave Dreams is a gem that opens 2017 on a decidedly high note for John Wesley Coleman III.