What does it sound like?:
The outlaw, the lonesome cowboy, the wandering vagabond or the migrant workers of the 1930s, outsiders to society, are deeply embedded in the American psyche, an integral part of their history, their literature, their culture and their politics. In Country music there are entire sub-genres celebrating these solitary travellers: Outlaw, Cowboy, Hillbilly and Honky Tonk. The instruments are simple: acoustic guitar, banjo, peddle steel, fiddle, stand up bass and piano. Lyrics tend to focus on working-class life, with frequently tragic themes of lost love, adultery, loneliness, alcoholism, and self-pity. The rhythms reflect the gait of a cow pony: walk, trot and lope.
Joshua Pless Harris is the genuine article, an exponent of the dark arts of Outlaw Country. He uses primitive instruments, like the clawhammer banjo, and his voice is as rough and wild as his beard. He is the antithesis of the slick production line that is Nashville in the 21st Century. His songs are a frank expression of his life. Born in Alabama, he left home aged 14, hitch-hiking and jumping freight trains in search of work, turning his hand at sheet metal scrapping, labouring, logging, farming and carpentry. He wound up in Halifax, Vermont, living in a remote cabin without running water and electricity for over twelve years. Look at his picture on the cover. He’s thirty-five years old.
For this, his third album, he’s recruited Morgan Jahnig of The Old Crow Medicine Show to produce, smooth off some edges and drag some friends in to flesh out the sound. Money has even been spent on a telecaster, a drum kit and an electric piano. The album is bookended by two rollicking band performances, with a live feel, that would not be out of place in an old Jook Joint. The speed of the guitar licks are especially impressive. It is at its most raw when he’s backed by no more than a couple of instruments and the stories of hardship arising from Harris’s own experience spring to life. The titles will tell you all you need to know: Lady In The Spotlight, Long Ways Back, Hard Road, I Only Drink Alone, Runaway and the train song, Jimmy’s Dead And Gone.
Harris has lived in relative comfort in Nashville for seven years, working as a jobbing carpenter. As a result, his sound is far less harsh than it was. However, he still retains an untamed edge and authenticity that draws the listener in. He may not remain on the fringes of Country Music for much longer.
What does it all *mean*?
There’s a place for everyone in this world. JP Harris has found his.
Goes well with…
Walking off the mountain, selling your pelts, getting blind drunk and visiting the tattoo parlour.
Might suit people who like…
Good old-fashioned music. Ten songs, fly by in under thirty minutes.