Assuming the stage name John Wesley Harding was a bit cheeky of singer-songwriter Wesley Stace. Associations with Bob Dylan’s album of the same name are unavoidable, but Harding didn’t start out playing folk music as one might think. Ever since he emerged almost fully formed from his native England in the late 1980s, he’s more often been compared to Elvis Costello because of his facility with pop melodies and brainy lyrics.
As with most singer-songwriters who are not Costello — or Dylan, for that matter — Harding’s musical career has mostly been in eclipse since his early major label success. But the quality of his work has remained strong and he isn’t afraid to wander outside the box that fans and critics tend to build around him. In fact, in 1999 he released an album of traditional folk songs, none of which were made famous by Dylan. He’s also just published a novel under his real name, to keep things interesting.
Opening for Harding on his Japan solo tour is Jon Auer, the sweeter-voiced half of the Seattle power-pop band The Posies. Auer has never needed an alias, though as a solo artist he’s never been as prolific as partner Ken Stringfellow. Nevertheless, his latest solo album, “Songs From the Year of Our Demise,” has added something worthwhile to the venerable tradition of the breakup album. Didn’t Dylan invent that, too?