John Wesley Coleman – The Last Donkey Show

Rating: ★★★½☆

John Wesley Coleman might not be a household name all over the place, but he’s kept himself busy shooting videos, writing songs and hanging out.  Such a storied life leads to his association with the troubadour sort, but when listening to his latest effort, The Last Donkey Show, his work seems a lot more focused, making way for one of his best collections of songs.

Immediately upon pressing play, you experience the whirling-dervish that is John Wesley Coleman, as the organ pounds, the vocals yelp in and out, and the writing all comes together; it’s a confident man we find here, happily doing his thing behind the microphone.  You’ll find yourself pushing ahead to the album’s single, “A Clown Gave You a Baby,” which is a lot more straight-forward than the title might suggest.  The chorus alone will show you just how much Coleman’s progressed as a songwriter, making his unpolished voice sound as warm as you’ve ever heard it.  Such signs are a positive start to The Last Donkey Show.

For me, it’s always been the playfulness with which JWC approaches his songs–not just in the title.  “The Howling” takes a dark ballroom ballad in its sonic tones, using various horns to accompany the vocals.  The repetition of “howl, howl” drives home the narrative, yet it also shows his willingness to lean on his outlandish creativity in his writing. Such tracks are significant because they demonstrate the variance you’ll find throughout the entirety of The Last Donkey Show–a great strength.  A song such as “Misery Again” definitely appeal to the sad-bastard sort, but in a quirky way that puts John in a class all his own.  It’s possible it might just be a good country ditty done by the troubled sort, yet I’m inclined to appreciate this softer side, especially after playing the album’s closer, “Flower in the Dark” on repeat over and over again.  This is definitely a ballad like few songs Coleman’s written before, using slide guitar to accent his carefully picked guitar lines.  It’s as honest a song as I can remember, and it immediately makes you press repeat, hoping to capture the magic of the track again.

Still, there’s enough of that ramshackle pseudo-Replacements approach to rock n’ roll living on The Last Donkey Show, especially with songs like “She’s Like Dracula.”  The guitar approach definitely feels like something Westerber would have thrown down, but it’s the use of horn blasts and extra flourishes that makes it all John Wesley Coleman.  You see, this whole record is all over the place, but I think that’s what has grown to make this man so endearing to his fans.  His work doesn’t stay in one place for long, so it never goes stale.  He’s willing to push himself, as well as the expected boundaries of the troubadour genre, demonstrating to us all that we’re fortunate enough to witness such a great talent alive and rocking in our lifetime (and in my hometown!).

The Last Donkey Show is available from Goner Records now, and you can check out the video for “Hanging Around” right HERE.

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