JOHN WESLEY HARDING

"Adam's Apple"

DRT

John Wesley Harding is a very smart fellow. His first novel will be published next spring by Little, Brown (under his birth name, Wesley Stace). His new album, "Adam's Apple," builds one song from John Donne's poem "Negative Love" and another from a collaboration with classical composer Gavin Bryars. "Monkey and His Cat" was inspired by an 18th-century woodcut, while "Protest Protest Protest" chronicles the history of American protest since the '60s.

Don't let any of this put you off. Harding adds so much melody and humor to his pop-rock tunes that they never feel like homework. His song "Nothing at All" may quote Shakespeare's "King Lear," but it also quotes the guitar lick from the Beatles' "Carry That Weight" and spins that riff into a chorus where the dizzying music matches the singer's confession that he's "falling." "Sussex Ghost Story" matches the elegance of Bryars's string quartet with a pulpy narrative of murder, revenge and the undead.

The main business of these songs is their catchy tunes and heart-on-a-sleeve yearning; the clever allusions buried within merely add an extra fizz to the pleasure. Recorded with different producers and different musicians in different places at different times, these dozen tracks are held together by Harding's disarming tenor and unassuming delivery. Recognizing that love is equally sublime and ridiculous, he gleefully couples Elizabethan verse and California surf music, chamber music and dance beats.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at Iota. * To hear a free Sound Bite from John Wesley Harding, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8104. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)