Brett Harris: Up in the Air

BrettHarris_UpInTheAirSuper sophomore release from a pop acolyte

Touring as a member of the dBs and the Big Star Third tribute cast, Harris had the opportunity to spend time making music with (and playing the music of) many of pop’s purest purveyors. His second full-length album is indebted to the Beatles, particularly on the Revolver-esque opener “End of the Rope” and the descending line of “Shadetree,” but you can also hear the influence of the dBs, Big Star, Badfinger and many others throughout the album. It’s not a period piece, but Harris makes no attempt to hide his musical lineage. The clarinet-led breakdown of “Lies” echoes the music hall influences that also struck Paul McCartney and Ray Davies, and the crooned vocal of “Out of the Blue” suggests Nilsson and Eric Carmen.

Harris’ southern connections surface in the soulful horns of side one’s closer (that’s right, the CD divides the song list into two five-song halves) “High Times,” sounding like something the Box Tops would have recorded for a B-side. The vibe continues in the organ lined “Rumor,” with sophisticated drumming and a lonely trumpet adding dramatic touches. You can continue to spot influences (early-70s Fleetwood Mac on the coincidentally named “Rumor,” and Todd Rundgren on the closing “Spanish Moss”), but Harris runs through his musical gears so smoothly as to turn his antecedents into jazz-like quotes rather than whole-cloth sources. The shadings have grown finer and more diverse in the six years since his debut, but the craft has been in place since Man of Few Words hit the racks in 2010.

Harris doesn’t often write directly from life, but he dips into personal heartbreak and indecision for “Lies,” singing memorable lyrics (“seems my mind’s made up, but my heart it feels so hollow, the unintended consequence of bitter pills I had to swallow”) with a Dylan-y rasp. Even without specific biographical details, Harris’ songs are clearly rooted in experience as he sings of damaging suspicions, healing hearts stumbling onto hope and cautious entry into new relationships. The Durham-area backing musicians are as talented and well-schooled as Harris himself, providing arrangements that are deep and surprising, such as the backwards guitar solo layered on the strings and bass of “Summer Night.” Harris has a lot of fans – famous and otherwise – and they’ll be happy to find their outsized expectations fulfilled by this terrific album. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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