THE WIDE AFTERNOON - JACK HARRIS
LCM ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Release Date: 20th January, 2017
Genre: Folk, Acoustic, Singer-Songwriter
Record Label: Rootbeat Records
London based singer-songwriter Jack Harris is quite unique in the world of UK Folk. Anais Mitchell once described him as "A priest of song who holds himself to an ancient, rigorous code of beauty most of us have forgotten exists". Jack was a SXSW showcasing artist at 17, as well as the youngest ever winner of the Kerrville Folk Festival's New Folk Award in 2005 (previous winners include Gillian Welch, Devon Sproule and Anais Mitchell). He has been the recipient of the PRS ATOM award for new music creation, as well as an EFDSS creative bursary for songwriting. The follow-up to his critical acclaimed 'The Flame & The Pelican' is a collection of eleven new intriguing songs and tales of mystery rooted in the folk & blues traditions. 'The Wide Afternoon' has subjects including dangerous men, literary women, stolen horses and vanished birds. It's somber and reflective with wonderfully composed rich lyrics and soundscapes, like a musical love child of Tom Waits and James Joyce. All delivered by master wordsmith Jack in his smoky vocals coupled with his own special arrangements and intimate style, woven into exquisite finger-picked acoustic guitar. Jack is the rare musical equivalent of a 'triple threat'.
The album was produced by Gerry Diver (Sam Lee, Lisa Knapp, Tom Robinson), who adds swooping violins and percussion into the already heady award-winning mix.
With it's dark foreboding chords the album begins with the autumnal cityscape 'As I Walked Out One Morning'. With it's percussion and phasing it has a traditional folk song feel with a modern twist. One of my favourite of the album is 'Bird In The Broken Clock' full of wonderful metaphors. Gerry volin swoops and rises above Jack's soft picked guitar. "Baby I'm the bird in the broken clock. A few seconds shy of the functioning flock. The wheels are shot all about my head. But I'll make a song above your bed."
A song about the of war and conflict is the broody 'A Soldier Walks Away'. A broken soldier. "I have always loved the trains that barrel through here.....but I fear so much the trains that return.......So boy which war is it you're fighting? To look at you I couldn't say....or did you just get tired of waiting?" Horse riding on a summer day is the subject of 'The Horses' and I'm guessing here but the 'black dog' reference may be about depression. 'Drowned House' is another song full of rich, deep and meaningful lyrics. Is it about a drowned valley of a poet making way for a dam or something much deeper? "For we're living in a drowning world. Upon the surf and the crest of death and no damn song will stem the tide. Come on Brothers, save your breath."
'Rivets' is a song using the metaphor of bridges, their joints and supporting structures. Gerry's fiddle playing here is reminiscent of late and great Dave Swarbrick. Some lovely underlying piano too from Paul Mosley. A rivet is a permanent mechanical fastener which can support both tension and shear loads. "So I'll offer you this much as writ, though it may not yet implore you. You know who I am and where I'm at and you know that I adore you." The album title track 'The Wide Afternoon' is another brooding affair. "All visions flourished as the sky let down it's snow upon the wide afternoon". It has a beautifully arranged sonic soundscape coupled with award winning sumptuous lyrics. The mood rises for the toe-tapping, bluesy and Irish Americana favoured Andalusian 'good time girl' 'Molly Bloom'. "Hey Molly Bloom you mountain flower....They're wild about your loving, you'll have your fun and it might as well be me as anyone". The bluesy and jazzy reflective 'The Oldest Man' pulls you into a world of old age and worldly wise experience. "The world is large and overwhelming, a ball of myth and hemisphere and yet, within restricted vision the oldest man keeps his small sphere.....and his memory's a storehouse, for the visions of the ages. So numerous he can't forget. But visions to come are more numerous before him"
We move into the height of summer for 'Brilliant Light' "The air was hot as blown glass". The underlying string arrangements and percussion offers a feel of the oriental. Almost invoking the Ryuichi Sakamoto classic 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence'. The album closes with the sage and thought-provoking 'Vanished Birds' in which all the birds which have become extinct, return to fly again in all their technicolour glory. They circle in the skies three times only to vanish again.......this time forever.