John Ashfield – Harmony Bunny

John Ashfield
Harmony Bunny

On this very day, I must admit that my brain just isn’t functioning well lately. Suffering from writer’s block can be a real drag, and I’ve been hoping that sitting down with John Ashfield’s Harmony Bunny would give me inspiration to get out of my funk and write a flowery little review. Well, review I did, and while the review isn’t exactly a rose garden, there’s definitely some blooming flora here.
Don’t get me wrong – John Ashfield’s latest release isn’t dreadful or anything by a long shot. As a matter of fact, there are actually handful of pretty kick-ass pop songs contained within the confides of Harmony Bunny. The downside, however, is that only those few songs are truly engaging enough to grab listeners’ ears and not let go – and most of them come early in this 13-song release. From there, the material tends to blend together in a drone that seems more suited for background noise than it does for an active listening experience.
“Crush” provides Harmony Bunny‘s pinnacle moment early on, taking a catchy guitar riff and Ashfield’s solid vocals and riding them for all they’re worth for a boppy two-and-a-half minute ‘happy trip.’ The chorus is spectacular, with the drums and guitars ‘sitting down’ in the mix while Ashfield lulls, “I’ve got a crush on you” to a finger-snapping beat. The whole package comes complete with a bang-up quickie guitar solo that serves as the whipped cream and cherry on top of this sweet, sweet little number. If Rick Springfield would’ve recorded this back in the day, he’d have EASILY had another hit as big as “Jessie’s Girl” on his hands – that’s how infectiously catchy “Crush” is. Of course, Ashfield’s advantage is that he makes the song sound effortless and sincere, unlike most of the catchy rock numbers from the 80’s (though, admittedly, I still love all of them regardless).
Of course, the downside about a track like “Crush” is that it’s very hard to re-create that same sort of vibe throughout the rest of a record. Ashfield does put forth a commendable effort on a few tracks, though. “I Don’t Know” is a laid-back number with a military-type cadence and a chorus that could’ve been lifted from a Bob Mould song. The track also features some nifty lead guitar work by special guest Patrick Goodwin. “Spare Memory” is a another notable track, a quick little piano-and-guitar led romp that comes off like a cheese-less Barenaked Ladies (and yes, I consider that to be a VERY good thing, thank you very much).
The rhythm of “Console Stereo” is more than a little Pretenders-esque, while the slow romp of “Dream 32” provides a change of pace with its piano lead. The other real highlights to Harmony Bunny, however, are the album’s closing tracks. “80 West” is a surprisingly nice piano-and-synth number that ends the ‘listed’ album tracks in a very nice manner, especially about halfway through the track when the acoustic guitar noodling enters the mix pretty prominently. The unlisted Track 13 seems to be a less extravagantly recorded piano-only extension of “80 West,” and while it is pretty pointless as a whole, it does admittedly sound nice during its 74-second existence.
Chris Xefos (ex-King Missile, and cool solo artist in his own right) did a majority of the production work with Ashfield on this release, a fact that shows through the incredibly well-balanced sound quality of Harmony Bunny. Ashfield certainly is a talented musician, having basically written and performed this release by himself (a few guest appearances excepted, of course). The songwriting ability is there, as well, as evidenced by “Crush” and “Spare Memory.” Still, the second half of Harmony Bunny just fades a bit into the ‘blah’ side of things. The mix is definitely there, and as far as pop music goes, I guess this does fit the bill, as even the uninspired material is at least listenable. “Crush,” “Spare Memory” and “I Don’t Know” make this a worthwhile venture on their own, but personally, I’m more excited over the potential for Ashfield’s next record.