WES CHARLTON is a Virginia boy based in Nashville, Tennessee. Certainly a smart place to base your operation if you to intend to infiltrate the roots-rock cognoscenti. And, if his debut album 'World On Fire' is anything to go by, young Mr. Charlton does indeed intend to infiltrate deeply into the public consciousness.
He's certainly got the authenticity to do it. Perhaps a little too much authenticity where opener 'Daytime Blues' is concerned. Riding a rhythm uncannily similar to Ryan Adams' 'Answering Bell', it opens with the lyric: “saw myself in a car crash on Highway 65/ feel so numb...like a ghost in everyone else's life.” If that wasn't enough to hammer the point home, he delivers these lines in a grainy, nicotined voice with more than a touch of Adams about it and insists a Neil Young-style harmonica part rides shotgun. For all the similarities, it's a decent song and thanks to a likeably cheeky lyric describing a meeting with Paul Westerberg in a bar he gets away with it.
Second track 'Still Here' opens with urgent riffing, but despite the fuzzboxes and gritty rock attitude, he merely conjures up the ghost of Uncle Tupelo this time around. By now, it's beginning to sound too identikit for comfort, but thankfully the tide turns courtesy of the next track, 'Red Eyes, Blue Lights': a well-thumbed, slightly ramshackle ballad driven on by desoation and lowing cello. It's the first time Charlton comes into his own and it's all the better for it.
It's the start of an impresive recovery too. Taking in strutting basslines, gamely plucked banjo and disco drumming, 'Jenny X-17' is a stark, but captivating tale of abuse topped off with an impassioned vocal; 'Black Alice' is another story of hard-living and drifting set to a hybridised coutry-reggae lope and 'TV Girl”s ragged glory and lurching choruses make sense of the 'Tonight's The Night' comparisons trailing the album.
The angst can feel a little too oppressive at times. You feel the album's emotional black hole should bottom out with the wracked, acoustic blues of 'Southern Comfort', but the overwrought alcohol and destruction scenario of 'Before I Die' piles on unbearable misery. 'The Wait' is arguably darker again – and more bizarre – with a rhythm box incongruously whacking out a funky beat against a lyrical backdrop of disaster, collapse and escape. It's actually pretty good, if about three minutes too long.
After all this emotional turmoil, the closing 'Change Will Come' is a welcome breath of fresh air. Hung on a framework of uplfting chords, distant peals of pedal steel and a plaintive, close-miked vocal from Charlton, its' positivity is both bracing and infectious and it ensures the album winds up on an unexpected high.
Although it sometimes sounds like it has great wrist-slitters like 'Heartbreaker' or 'Tonight's The Night' in its' sights, 'World on Fire' never quite fans the flames of its' own tortured ambition. For all that, it's a good debut and suggests great things may yet rise from the spark of Wes Charlton's creativity.