The new ten song collection from Texas singer/songwriter and published poet John Wesley Coleman III further strengthens his reputation as one of the true songwriting independents working today. Microwave Dreams shows his dexterity as it delves through a variety of styles without losing its coherence or artistic footing. His vocals, however outside the mainstream they might sound on first or hundredth listen, are perfect for his lyrics about personal desperation, joy, getting through a day, desire, and dozens of other subject clearly preoccupying him. There’s some unexpected instruments thrown into the mix along the way, some odd musical touches that could come from no one else, but he never sounds out of place even in the most nominally unusual settings. The production varies some and seems tailored to the needs of each song.
“Shovel” bears some obvious similarities to alternative or indie guitar rock, but there are strong melodic aspects to the song. It’s far from commercial, however. Coleman’s never content following a straight line from A-Z without zig sagging a little along the way. The tempo on this number and Coleman’s vocal delivery has a sort of gleeful fatalism and the music takes unexpected turns that are certain to please many. “Hang Tight” is a hard-hitting rock song that never comes off hamfisted or unbelievable. Instead, Coleman sings like a man unchained, and the performance feels cathartic in the extreme. He takes another surprising turn with “Jesus Never Went to Junior High”, but you never quite know whether you should take his reflections about dropping acid during his middle school days with any real seriousness. One thing that comes through clearly, however, is the themes behind the lyrics and it’s one of the most intelligent pieces of writing on an album full of them. “Black Kite” is a sort of acoustic, countrified psychedelic romp that’s unabashed fun. The lyrics show off more serious concerns and fit the music quite well.
There’s a light of pure pop rock genius filling a song like “Exotic Tambourine”. Coleman and his accompanying musicians breeze through this song with hooky refrains, bright crescendos, and a go for broke attitude that makes this relatively simple track much greater than it might otherwise be. It takes a sharp turn from there into a piano ballad with the song “Mama, I’m a Big Boy Now”. This surprising marriage of melancholy and childlike pleading has a near classical feel. It’s another great vocal performance from Coleman and he never overplays his hand. There’s a little rock spirit in the physical musical attack of “See You Tomorrow”, but Coleman shows his sharp taste as a singer again and serves the arrangement well. A tour de force ends the album on a high with the track “We Care About Love”. This is as from the heart as it gets and Coleman’s jaw-dropping performance, musically and vocally, makes great hay out of a poignantly direct lyric. Microwave Dreams will astound many newcomers to Coleman’s sound and songwriting talent while reaffirming why he’s such a force for his many existing fans. This represents another peak from an artist who shows no signs of slowing down.
9 out of 10 stars