[25 April 2012]
John Wesley Coleman may share 67% of his name with Wesley Stace’s alter ego John Wesley Harding (to say nothing of a certain 1967 Bob Dylan record), but on his sixth full length, Coleman shows less interest in evoking those two touchstones and would much rather tweak irreverent barroom rock and pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll. Recorded in Texas and Oakland, CA, the freewheeling, eclectic The Last Donkey Show feels informed by a lot of the shaggy lo-fi pop coming out of the latter city’s across-the-bay neighbor, San Francisco: Shannon and the Clams, Sonny and the Sunsets, etc. To wit: the demented girl-group stylings of “Don’t Waste My Time” and the reckless, circus-y keybs of the opening “My Grave” find Coleman and his compatriots throwing ideas against the wall and having them stick in just the right spots. Elsewhere, a few tracks explore the aforementioned pre-Beatles RNR window that the likes of Mark Sultan and Dexter Romweber have exploited and twisted (“A Clown Gave You a Baby”, “The Howling”), but are no less fun -– and ditto for the countrified dealings of “Misery Again” and “Hanging Around”. Donkey Show runs out of steam at its end -– the quiet duet (with Andre Hall) “Running Into the Bulls” passes on the opportunity to explore a tweaked metaphor, and the earnest steel guitar closer “Flower In The Dark” just doesn’t quite fit with what preceded it. When Coleman’s on his game, though, Donkey Show is a heckuva good time.