Wesley Stace – who used to make records under the Bob Dylan-inspired pseudonym John Wesley Harding – has been known to take a stylistic turn or two, but he’s mostly stayed in the lanes of indie-folk and power pop. On his upcoming album Late Style (out 17 September via Omnivore), he collaborated with songwriter David Nagler for a collection of late-night, jazzy compositions that fall somewhere between Burt Bacharach, Sergio Mendes, and the Bee Gees. Deluxe editions of the album even come with cocktail napkins, coasters, and a unique drink recipe.
One of the tracks released prior to the full album is “Do Nothing If You Can”, premiering here on PopMatters. For this song, Stace turned, somewhat surprisingly, to the seductive “quiet storm” soul of Teddy Pendergrass. The late singer was paralyzed in a car accident in 1982 in his native Philadelphia, which happens to be where Stace now calls home. “Every morning, when I drive my kids to school,” Stace explains, “I think of TP because he had his awful car accident on the school run, right at the intersection of Rittenhouse St and Lincoln Drive.” Stace says that the song is “a way to apply what I love about his music to mine, however unlikely that may seem”.
While it may be a strange combination, the low-key soul/jazz balladry of “Do Nothing What You Can” fits Stace like a glove, more proof – as if anyone needed any – of his ability to immerse himself in genres that may initially seem out of place. With a seductive croon, Stace seems to be instructing his folkier, wordier self to calm down and enjoy life. “Don’t play so long / Don’t write so many songs / Here’s a plan / Do nothing if you can.” The video is a bit of stylish, tongue-in-cheek minimalism: an unbroken shot of Stace, resplendent in a sharp suit and untucked shirt, dancing and singing by a swimming pool at night. Stace may be an English bloke raised on Dylan, but his shimmering new sound is straight out of Philly.