Brady Harris – Lone Star

Brady Harris
Lone Star

It may have more to do with the character of modern entertainment, arising with the gears of promotion being somewhat different than they were 40 years ago as well as the increased critical scrutiny that coincided with rock music’s emergence as a genuinely respectable form of art, but musicians just aren’t able to muster the same output of their forbearers. Long gone are the days when the likes of Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and their ilk were reliable for one (and sometimes even two) albums that featured the best fruit of their labors per year. Recalling Elliott Smith as much for his apparent artistic alacrity as for his perfectly bending and sighing melodies, Brady Harris hasn’t offered much more than a few scattered singles and live performances to capitalize on the burgeoning hype surrounding his songwriting talents since his last release. The winds have blown wildly and unpredictably since Harris garnered his first round of applause for 2000’s excellent combination of Beatlesque rock and singer-songwriterisms entitled Good Luck Stranger. Radiohead has released three studio albums, the White Stripes have become the first indie rock band to significantly hit the mainstream in ages, and every band from New York has instant credibility. And yet Harris has used a three-year gestation period to birth this baby of original ambition, potentially placing unfair anticipation on this release. It better be worth the wait.
And it is. The descending piano hook that opens the appropriately titled “Welcome Me Back,” featuring generous helpings of lush pedal steel sweeping over wounded electric guitar leads and a sadly swaying melody, is a startling reminder of just how considerable are Harris’ melodic gifts. The track that follows, the uneasy Lennon-esque piano pop of “Weekend in Detroit,” weaves melancholy hooks into the fabric of lushly crossing multi-part harmonies and handclaps, again ranking favorably with just about anything he or any of the songwriters working in the crowded field of melodic singer-songwriters have released in recent memory. The dignified lilt of “Good to Know,” slippery with plaintive Big Star gloss and wistfully humble melodic turns, continues the perfect flow of the album, setting the bar unreasonably high for the rest of the album.
The muscular, near-anthem “Streets of Spain” falters only slightly, echoing back to Harris’ days at the helm of the sadly overlooked Solid Goldsteins as an Oasis-worthy jolt of Brit-pop. The hypnotic, stripped-down chamber pop of the skeletal “Amethyst” is successful as a mysterious one-chord lullaby, as cold as the good-natured country-rock of “Strangers When We Meet” is warmly inviting. More than a little Elliott Smith can be extracted from the questioning tone of the elaborately melancholy “Ordinary Song,” with Harris ranging some dead-ringing George Harrison guitar solos over the pensively classicist pop arrangement. Still, some unusual detours follow.
“Can’t Wait 2CU,” aside from being the most Prince-like title in the bunch, features an atypical mix of bubbling Afro-Caribbean beats, snaking bass lines, xylophone, and Harris’ most sultry vocals. The playful “Never Lost in a Crowd,” with shakers, simple repeated chord progressions, and, vaguely, obviously rhymed lyrics seems to be at once the album’s most tossed off song and its most clever. Further, the willfully escapist “Mexico” incorporates some pseudo-Mexico guitar picking and travel bureau sloganeering that are cheeky enough that it’s a surprise that Paul McCartney didn’t do it first (although the melody is actually more contemplative than cheery), with its images of the protagonist beckoning his lover to travel with him south of the border to bask in the friendly climate and sing some songs. Though not inappropriate, the looped hip-hop beats of “Battery Park AM” are overlaid with bluesy guitar leads and synth strings for a lazy instrumental coda.
All in all, Harris might not make the indisputable quantum leap that some could expect for three years of home incubation, but at his best he is still amazingly good, boasting melodies that few of the tradesmen in his line of work can approach. As much of the country-rock influence that filled in the vague space of his previous work has been eased back a bit, he seems to be inching ever closer to staking out a quadrant of territory in the singer-songwriter canon distinctively his own. In fact, the subtle experimentation in texture and tempo suggests that he’s an artist who has only begun to explore the nature of artistic resources he has at his service. Of course, the realization that one can reasonably go off in any number of creative directions can sometimes paralyze an artist into inactivity, but the nature of Harris’ muses seem to be such that he’ll likely have little choice but to follow them. And if it took him three years to come to this stage in his development, it was worth it.