Perhaps the key to Brett Harris's pop sensibility is found in the photograph in the inside of his latest CD. Amid a room cluttered with musical instruments, amps, and other recording paraphernalia, one item immediately catches the eye: the unmistakable classic album cover of the Beatles' Rubber Soul album. And yet while his latest release pays homage to vintage pop music, it seems more fresh and current than much of the mimicry that plies the airwaves.
Man of Few Words, Harris's April 6th release --- his first full-length recording --- is a paean to the restorative, liberating, and yet sometimes unrequited power of love, a lexicon of feelings, promises, changed perspectives, heartbreaks, and joy. It is, in short, a new pop record with an old soul, its love songs rooted in a musical palette of acoustically-grounded pop melodies, rich harmony, and diverse instrumentation. Listening to it I heard the unmistakable echo of Lennon-McCartney but also the artistic range of veteran popster Elvis Costello, the sunny southern California sound of the Beach Boys (particularly post-Smile), and other AM pop radio sounds, among them (dare I say it) even Mott the Hoople ("All the Young Dudes"). Backed by some veteran area musicians this time around (he played all or most of the instruments on his preceding two EPs), and under the competent hand of co-producer Jeff Crawford, Harris takes a leap up the ladder of musical competence. There are no fillers here. Every track clicks.
From the moment the band kicks in on the first cut, "I Found Out," I knew I would like this album. The buoyant beat is a fine complement to the lyrical focus, the changed perspective on life brought about by new found love. When Harris sings "you opened my eyes/ to a brand new horizon," or "Honey you've got a spark/ that can light up the darkest night," everything in me wants to say "yes!" in affirmation. It's a promising overture to an album that, while not shirking the trouble of love, never wallows in angst. It just keeps moving. As Harris encourages us in "Mansfield," "Just slow it down and/ take some time to look around and see/ what a lovely, lovely place this world could be." Maybe so, but the infectious beat and hooky choruses of this album don't have you thinking slow at all. Leaping and dancing may be more like it. (And for that Mott the Hoople influence, check out "Drop the Needle." Am I right?) And certainly my favorite lyric is this hope-beyond-his-years stanza from "Wish," where Harris imagines that "Me and you should be like old shoes/ never more than a step apart/ Above our chins we'd wear broken-in-grins/ cultivated by happy hearts." It's a good marital aspiration to have in your Twenties.
While musically there's nary a downer here, there a few songs you can file under the category of "Love Hurts." The shuffling acoustic beat of "Unspoken" has a lyric that channels a thousand classic love songs: "you swore you'd love me thick and thin/ and I believed in you/ but you broke my heart in two." And yet the music almost paradoxically hints at some greater joy that will come even out of heartbreak. Or listen to "So Easy," when the narrator asks us to "imagine the sight/ of me watching you walk in the room last night/ dressed to kill on the arm of someone else," and yet musically I hear the classic AM pop sound of "The Association," so fetching a sound that it's difficult to believe that the "broken-hearted boy" in the song won't pick himself and go on and even be better for it. And maybe that's just it: there's an unspoken undercurrent of something deeper than romantic love in this record of love songs, a gravity of joy and hope that is irrepressible. But then this "man of few words" need not say much. He just needs to sing it.
I highly recommend Man of Few Words. While I might quibble about the lack of lyrics in the CD insert (though they are available online) and hope for a bit more lyrical depth or complexity (the prior because I'm old-school, the latter because I read too much poetry), these are likely my idiosyncrasies, not qualifications on a fine record. So step up to the plate. Don't be a passive listener. Support a local (Durham, NC) artist with a passion for writing and playing new classics. Like a lot of great music, Harris's record is independently released and, thus, not nationally distributed. . . yet, that is, at least in the brick and mortar stores. But you can find it at several local record stores and online. Find out where here. Buy it local, or buy it direct at a show. But just buy it, and "let the music take you 'round/ and get lost in the sound with everyone." That's an order, and a promise.