By Len Senecal
John Wesley doesn’t wait long to take charge on his new album, Disconnect, stepping out of the sideman role and into the spotlight on his first solo release since 2011’s EP the lilypad suite and first full-length effort since Shiver in 2005.
As has been the case on each of his previous four albums and three EPs, the Tampa, Florida guitarist/vocalist continues to push the boundaries of his music.
But as someone who has worked closely with progressive giants like Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Marillion and Fish, it would be foolish to expect anything different.
Riding the wave of his first worldwide release with Century Media’s InsideOut Music, Wesley and his bandmates are just looking to find their niche in the musical scene.
“I’d like to play for everyone, but there’s always going to be people who don’t connect to us,” he said during a recent performance/interview on Tampa’s WMFF radio program, ‘Step Outside.’ “We want to play for the people who do…I’d like to just be able to keep releasing records, find enough of an audience…that’s my ultimate goal.”
Disconnect may just be the proper vehicle to propel him to that goal, with Wesley commenting that, “on this album a lot of the ideas and riffs come together.”
Best known for his exceptional guitar work as sideman to Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson, Wesley reported that he has been far more dedicated to his writing over the past few years, and it clearly shows on Disconnect.
Always known for his abilities to turn a phrase and to deliver raw emotion in his vocal stylings, Wesley addressed the lyrical aspects of the new album, saying, “if someone wants to take the ride, really get into it, they might find something there.”
Indeed his poignant words come through well on songs such as “Mary Will,” a story, “about a guy who’s kind of down on his luck and everyone’s given up on him.
The only thing he connects to is a statue of Mary in a rose garden … it’s his last hope.
The song brings Wesley’s soul-searching vocals into the open, something longtime “Wes” fans have always cherished.
Bulgarian born and Tampa-area favorite Geri X adds backing vocals on “Disconnect” and “Any Old Saint,” with longtime Wesley cohort Mark Prator on drums while co-producer Dean Tidey adds guitars with Patrick Bettison on bass.
“Disconnect is a collective experience, a part of the human condition that all of us will endure in some form or another,” Wesley said of the thoughts and experiences that propelled his work on the album.
“Some of us will hide, some of us will cave in and some of us will come through stronger. For me…ultimately through this learning … I discovered once again … that the one thing you can count on in life is ‘change,’ you will be forced to ‘Disconnect’ from many things and people you care about and there is no stopping that ‘train of life’ so to speak. So it’s not about what in your life changes … it’s about how you cope with these changes and ‘guide the ship’ that brings us out on the other side.”
Changes in his family and musical career provided some of the influence, along with his relationships with friends and other acquaintances, including some friends who, “had done service in Iraq and Afghanistan, some I knew before and then after they came home. Afterwards, I had noticed in them their own struggle with ‘disconnect.’ I watched how they had changed. I also learned a great deal about how our government takes care of our returning warriors … and they don’t take care of them very well. The results of this apathy from the Government for these men can be life altering. Some other people I know were on a path of ‘disconnect’ through addiction … or just a general apathy for life and hiding in worlds online that don’t exist in the hopes of making some sort of connection, that ultimately leads to an isolation from intimate relationships and friendships.”
Legendary guitarist Alex Lifeson lends his axe on the military themed “Once a Warrior,” a guitar festival that opens with crunching six-string chords before developing into a deep and layered symphony of sound that pays tribute to both Rush and Porcupine Tree by the time it has finished.
But while there are undeniable elements of his Wilson-Porcupine Tree influence, including a Steven Wilson mix on “Windows,” the songs are uniquely Wesleyan in nature.
The foot-pounding beat of “Gets You Every Time” and “A New Life in Old Sweat,” will affect anyone with a pulse, as will the guitar and vocal work on “Take What You Need” and “How Goes the War.”
His days as a solo performer, acoustic guitar in hand are brought to life in the album’s closing song, “Satellite,” and as the final voice fades to close the album Wesley does something that all artists aim for, but only a relative few can accomplish: he leaves you wanting more.
Despite making a name for himself working with famous progressive rock acts, Wesley’s talent has gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media.
To that end most of his back catalog is available, some of it free of charge, via his website www.john-wesley.com
But make sure you include the dash, otherwise, “you’ll get the founder of the Methodist Church,” according to Wesley, who also joked that, “I get e-mail for him.”
But don’t look for bonus tracks from the Florida native, Wesley commenting that he responded to an inquiry for extras from the record company by saying, “these are the 10 songs … I don’t want to dilute the record.”
So instead of potential outtakes, Disconnect features 10 solids songs from the man with the famous namesake.
And while no one will ever mistake him for the renowned religious frontman, all signs are pointed toward increased notice for John Wesley and Disconnect.