John Wesley is probably best known as the touring guitarist for Porcupine Tree, and before that a sidesman for Fish. But he’s also had a parallel career as a singer-songwriter, and “Disconnect” is his latest album.
There’s little of Porcupine Tree’s Floydian atmospherics on offer here, this is more an album of guitar-shredding psychedelic hard rock. While it’s the noisy in-your-face guitars that immediately grab your attention, repeated listens reveal there’s some solid songwriting there too. Wesley keeps a foot in both the singer-songwriter and guitar hero camps, and the songs are far more than mere vehicles for guitar pyrotechnics. While he’s a better guitarist than he is a singer, the vocals are strong enough that it doesn’t suffer from the sort of weak vocals that let down many albums by guitarists-turned-singers. This record isn’t short of understated melody.
But ultimately this is still a guitarist’s album, and his playing is raw and visceral. There are occasional hints of Richard Thompsons’ style of electric folk-rock on one or two tracks, in other places there’ some of Neil Young style of dirty amplifier-destroying distortion. His fluid soloing avoids clichéd blues or prog styles. It’s not quite all played on Eleven; while it is a loud, noisy record there are also moments of delicacy and enough dynamics to avoid things becoming too one-dimensional.
Other contributing musicians are the rhythm section of Patrick Bettison on bass and Mark Prator on drums, and a couple of solos from guitarist Dean Tidy. They are no keys, although the multiple layers of guitars would need more than a basic power trio to reproduce live.
Highlights include “Any Old Saint” with its face-melting riff, anthemic chorus, lengthy solo and delicate outtro, the driving riff of “Once a Warrior”, and the blues-flavoured ballad “Mary Will” with some very Robin Trower like guitar tones. But there isn’t really any filler on this record. If you like your guitars loud and dirty as well expertly-played, then this record is strongly recommended.