John Wesley Coleman III – Cuckoo Bird Sings a Song
By Jay Armstrong
The week I brought home John Wesley Coleman’s Cuckoo Bird Sings a Song friends walking through the door found me wide-eyed excited, “you gotta check this out.” Week two, “I know I put it on already but…” Now a month later, the album playing low in the background, I hum along in perpetual awe content knowing it exists.
John Wesley Coleman III, for anyone who hasn’t spent thirty seconds around the dude, is the wildest of wildcards. Put a guitar or shot in his hand and the room becomes his stage; all charisma, all insanity. Like witnessing a firework stand go up in flames while sitting on the trunk of your car across the street– the danger is minimal, the explosions random, intense, uniquely poetic. Neither before nor after will there be another like him. Having been witness to Coleman playing every kind of show imaginable, no matter if the night is good or bad you end up with a story. It is as though with him around the universe unleashes some strange weird cosmic force one can only bathe in. Totaling up pros and cons the next day it always comes up Milhouse. In comparison; I have seen Bad Sports play at least ten times over the years only to vaguely remember maybe two of their sets with any definition. And I love catching Bad Sports live. All the years, the bands he has played in, the uncountable number of albums he has put out, all now come together as a monument to a career of positive steps creating an experience consistently bringing significance to this album. Cuckoo Bird Sings a Song is beyond that, beyond Coleman, beyond us. It is the sort of record you will come across in some shop twenty years from now and lay heavy on whoever you are with to convince them to grab it. Just when we thought we had him figured out. Unpredictable always.
Typically when saying an album is great it simply means there isn’t a weak song on it. On Cuckoo Bird it isn’t only the songs which stand out, it is how they run through each other subconsciously. Take “Feel That Way” with its Roky Erickson “I Walked With A Zombie” lyric structure– a single line repeated over and over, your own mind projecting itself into the interpretation which swells, contracts, breathes in any way your imagination wants to twist it. Standing alone it merely hangs in the shadows of say “Heaven” or “Kick It Again,” yet when you step back and feel the album as a whole without even being aware of it the keys heard on the previous “All Over Now” chopping at odds against the rhythm are found mirrored by the drums picking up the pattern. With barely a pause as the song closes “Baby I Like Your Style” takes off with the same concept of a single line repeated over and over again only this time manipulated; Coleman’s own voice doing the background work with occasional intended dissonance giving the same off-kilter carnivalesque sway as the keys in “All Over Now,” creating this arch of Mingus level perfection binding the three. The entire album blends into itself in this fashion.
Each of those three songs are minor in significance played isolated from the album, they are just solid songs to appreciate having heard, yet as the needle paces across the album my quiet four walls of home come alive in flashing neon lights flooding the Bowery streets of seventies New York. It is Jazz not heard but spoken through Kerouacian prose allowing your mind belief in the transcendence of a moment and meaning and everything else which our hearts find positive and defeating in these beat days of our karmic souls. Cuckoo Bird Sings a Song is a John Cale wet dream resting on a bed made with only the absolute best Nikki Sudden had to offer. If these songs were poems, Ferlinghetti himself would rise from the grave to personally watch the ink dry on the pages coming off the press. Sweet drifting chapters of Hemingway, what a time to shut off the world outside with its damnation doom distractions by way of such a humbly accepting yet fulfilling album.
It does not matter Coleman was a key figure of the dawning new millennia’s rebirth of Austin which brought you, me, and the rest of the herd here. It does not matter that anything he touches keeps the tap tap tapping fingers between here and Los Angeles of every person with a laptop and the belief their opinion on music is worth a shit glorifying his noise page after page with only messianic praise. It does not matter what show he played in the past which made your life better or the party where he stumbled around warming the shoulders of existence with brotherly love. It does not matter who he is or how necessary he has been as part of the collective all togetherness we still cling to on this island of misfit toys. I mean it does. It sure as hell does. Not today though. Not with this album. It is bigger than the man himself, bigger than us, and without a doubt more than we complacent gimme gimme gimmes deserve.
To turn things back from his Burger/Goner days without sounding like yet another cheese ass old dude trying to pretend they learned only peace, love, and a romantic appreciation for the road while dry humping bummed couches and dirty van seats for the last ten years takes skill. Coleman is creating forward-thinking omnipresent songs at a point in his career where other greats trade-in for nostalgia. The experience has paid off, he has figured out how to properly dial things back to let the overall breathe, perfecting how to keep it all moving in an upbeat swing with enough space to appreciate the parts as well as the whole. When did Wes Coleman start strutting around like a professional? And why am I surprised it fits him so well?
December 8th – Radio Milk Day Party w/ Daniel Dufour, Daphne, Being Dead, and Magic Rockers of Texas (12:30 – 7 )
Dec 20th – Sahara Lounge w/ Heartless Bastards, The Early Stages, and Baby Robots
Dec. 21st – Acoustic – Wheatsville (6pm-8pm)
I had the chance to shoot my first video with Wes for “Weird Old World”. Coleman remaining true to form gave me an unexpected story from moment one to be recounted from time to time with warm laughter and proper embellishment. Never once in regaling the adventure have or will it be properly told. It would be impossible. The best way to sum it up is the same as the only way to describe John Wesley Coleman III himself; slightly weird – – – – – and pretty cool.