John Wesley Coleman, Bad Lady Goes to Jail (Goner)
“It’s shit, but I went with it.”
So says John Wesley Coleman at the end of “Get High Baby.” When he mutters the comment, the Austin songwriter’s latest record, Bad Lady Goes to Jail, is halfway through its 12-songs. Full of rattle and hum, the song plays like a jam from a Who practice circa 1971. It’s loose and clearly not fussed-over. But the riffs are sharp, and the tumultuous drumming packs a punch. Coleman’s aside comes as the cut is winding down, seemingly in explanation of why the song sounds the way it does.
But it’s not shit, and neither are any of the of the other rough but charming cuts here. The comment gets after the feeling that makes Bad Lady hard to resist. It doesn’t sound like an album that took a particularly long time to make. The songs ooze out of warm garage fuzz that comes off as the best kind of careless. Half the songs are just fragments, several just repeating one line for a couple of minutes. It’s a highly casual affair, the kind you feel you can just walk in on anytime. It’s like you’ve wandered in on Coleman and his band woodshedding before a show, running through their numbers and seeing what works, what mood they’re in. You crack a beer and sit on the couch, maybe chat with the girl sitting next to you while the ruckus buzzes pleasantly in the background. There’s no pressure to listen intently. Everything’s laid back. You just take it in at your leisure.
It’s not these songs aren’t remarkable. The musicianship is often precise and always varied. On “Get High Baby” a bongo solo rips through the middle of the track, adding texture without becoming an annoyance. “Go Baby Go” is a ramshackle, acoustic-meets-tambourine-rattle take on Springsteen’s early Buddy Holly-isms. It’s perfectly off the cuff. Coleman’s caricature of the Boss’ vocal tics is just off enough to be authentic, just accurate enough to stick with you. It’s the kind of cut that doesn’t hit you hard right away, but comes back to you later, begging you to throw the record on again.
Most of the songs here work like that. The first time you hear Coleman rant, “Christians drive like shit!” over and over on the two-minute song of the same name, you’re likely to think, “Oh, that was kinda fun,” and move on. But the obstinate sneer of his delivery prevails on the brain, making it the kind of line that’s hard to not start shouting along with. The give-and-take of the song’s guitar and organ groove drives the point home, creating a genuine ear worm out of one kinda funny, mildly offensive observation.
“Christians Drive Like Shit” and all the other delightfully undercooked morsels on Bad Lady benefit from the sentiment Coleman displays at the end of “Get High Baby.” He doesn’t care if you think this record isn’t good. He made this music to have some fun and seems to have succeeded. It’s this loose, carefree energy that makes the album stick. It’s not the best thing you’ll ever hear. Hell, it might not even be the best you’ll hear this month. But it’s a record with a welcoming feeling that few others can manage. It’s the kind of atmosphere that’s hard not to keep coming back to again and again.