Music from Crazy Hearts | Wesley Dean – House Of Flames

Music from Crazy Hearts | Wesley Dean – House Of Flames Back

30/04/2024
Stephen Rapid
Lonesome Highway

Until I received this album for possible review, I wasn’t aware of Wesley Dean. From the cover I learned that it was recorded in RCA Studio A in Nashville and that he is a new outlaw affiliated country orientated artist.

Dean is an Australian who is well know and successful back in his home country for winning Australian Idol and has released hit singles and albums. He had, in the past, visited the States and Nashville in particular. On that trip he met Justin Cortelyou, an experienced engineer, and for this album has used Cortelyou as his producer. It has turned out to be a very successful partnership. Though it has many of the hallmarks of roots Americana, they have created something of a big and engaging sound that has an immediate impact from first listen.

All the songwriting is credited to ‘W. Carr’, who is in fact Wesley Dean. He dropped the Carr from his name of late when he made the new move. The songs came after a period of self-analysis and doubt as to whether he should continue with his musical career. He made the decision to move his family to Nashville during the pandemic and once that was firmly in place and the decision cemented, he found the songs came over a brief period and then he set about recording them with Cortelyou. A key team of players worked with Dean, who himself featured on acoustic and electric guitar, along with Chris Harrah, and was joined by the power and omnipresence of the rhythm section of Brian Killian (drums) and Adam Beard (bass), the keyboards of Charlie Lowell and the string arrangements and fiddle from Billy Contreras. This adds much of the depth, drama and texture that is apparent here. There is also a forceful use of vocals, with both a choir and assembled backing vocalists (Sarah Buxton and the McCrary Sisters) used through the tracks, to great effect.

The opening drum pattern of Mercy, a song with religious overtones of deliverance and redemption with the choir singing “God has mercy”, is a sound that grows and builds to a short but effective guitar and fiddle mid-section. As an album opener, it’s powerful and memorable and sets up expectations for the remainder of the album. The next song Burn This House goes out to those with “crazy hearts”, who have had to endure what life offers to those living on the fringes and who might also have fallen through the cracks. Dean adds convincing harmonica to contribute to the overall energy of the song.

There is a simpler feel to the tale of two friends that is Blood Brothers. It details how the closeness of these two friends is lost over time. It has an impassioned vocal from Dean to further emphasise this, as does the closing abstract sound collage.This is just one song that draws from a heartland experience that could relate to small town America as much as it could to a similar situation in Australia, or anywhere.

In a not dissimilar vein is Gunslinger, where again the guitars add a forcefulness to the sound that in many ways transcends genre into something more universal, with a mass of vocals repeating the title. The title track is more gentle and acoustic, using guitar and keyboards sparingly until the choir weighs in without overwhelming the mood. “Sometimes I think my heart is too crazy for you.” The first version of Tennessee Road is short and soulful and reminds one, to a degree, of Chris Stapleton. Then the longer version of the track continues that theme but with a full keyboard bolstered sound that could have come from a later Springsteen album. It is in this latter part of the album that the sound opens up to something that is broader than an ‘Americana’ label might predict (though that term is now so broad I guess it can accommodate pretty much anything – these tracks included). Doorways has more soulfulness, strings and a touch of 60s psych-soul.

Harmonica opens the next track’s reflection, which is Don’t look Back, about belief and forward looking and thinking. It asks who are you fighting for and is similarly less reliant on the big sound. He is joined by Sarah Buxton on the vocals. A track that may, by its title, have some resonance and placement in the consciousness is Southern Man. Built around a central boogieing guitar riff, the song has an undeniable power as it explains who the southern man here is. It builds to a hypnotic state, with the title repeating throughout. The album closes with Tomorrow which is, by way of contrast, a vocal and acoustic song at heart. It speaks of dreams and hopes for tomorrow. The strings are used effectively and subtly here, and it shows that Dean’s grasp of portraying mixed emotions is at the heart of his musical quest.

This is an album that may be considered to redefine the notions of a genre, but one that, for this listener, manages never to move to a place that seems at odds with its intentions, something that many artists who claim adherence to that style do – for me at least. At the end of the day this man’s crazy heart is beating strong and his music has a similar heartbeat.

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