Luke Wesley - Who Are We Kidding?
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: July 9, 2013
Who Are We Kidding? is the sophomore follow-up to Brooklyn singer-songwriter Luke Wesley's criminally overlooked debut Because We Never Talk About It. Wesley, an Ohio transplant that pens most of his songs on a piano, steers himself away from his faithful ivories for the fuller, more richly textured Who Are We Kidding?
The most immediate thing about listening to Wesley is his voice. Possessing a controlled, accessible and very immediate tenor, he grabs at the ears from the very first seconds. Whether its the fizzy album opener "Unfaithful" or the driving self-introspection of "Everything We've Never Wanted," Wesley hits at what it is to be a young independent in Manhattan trying to navigate heartache. In the first two cuts, there's a definitive turn towards airy, synth-driven celestial rock and while that's not exactly a misstep it's a surging step forward from the naked arrangements of Never Talk About It. However, this progression should serve Wesley quite well as "Everything We've Ever Wanted" has a radio bent that would do well in larger stadiums and on larger tours.
Wesley relates life exactly as it happens and that is perfectly evident on the teetering "Wake Up," which opens with the lyrics, "Blacked out in the middle of a backyard, in the corner of July, not making any sense." Wide-eyed, hopeful and bolstered by a giant chorus, "Wake Up" is arguably one of the best songs Wesley has written to date. The first half of the disc closes with the lingering ballad "Consolation," and the ringing "One Great Night."
The second half opens with the surging and big-hearted "Tinsel Take Down," another radio-ready effort that continues Wesley's of packing an album with few, if any weak tracks. The piano-and-strings ballad "Again" matches the wide-eyed optimism of "Wake Up" and weaves it together with the ornateness of "Consolation." Wesley has always drawn strength from his ballads but on "Again" he hits at something far deeper and does so in a way that is both dynamic and engaging. The dry and by-the-book "Divorce Myself" is in some ways a chance for Wesley to step back and collect himself. Many will find charms and appeal in the song but of the ten it's the only one that lacks a punch. Calling it filler would be a slight but it straddles the line somewhere between filler and non-impacting.
Who Are We Kidding? closes with the anthemic and jazzy "Take the Money and Run," a long-lasting and deeply important effort that points a finger at self-involvement, responsibility and chasing the dream. Jas Walton's saxophone and Billy Aukstik's trumpet give the song a buoyancy and sugariness about a song that actually points at something worth revisiting. As expected, Wesley concludes the disc with "Make Nothing Something," a timeless piano ballad that's as rich and impacting as anything currently being released by his contemporaries.
In the end, Wesley has a natural charisma that brings the listener closer into his world, something only the best piano-based songwriters can truly do. While he's nowhere near the titanic status of torchbearers such as Elton John, Bruce Hornsby, Billy Joel or Ben Folds, if he keeps crafting albums like Who Are We Kidding?, he just might find himself in their company.