When you can’t see Hank Harris live, his new CD “Peace” is the next best thing for a fix of that distinct voice and creative songwriting.
Hank’s new batch of tunes feature collaborations with his musician friends from Nashville to Sioux Falls, and Van Nuys to Redwood City. That keeps each track sounding different and interesting with a guitar solo here, background harmonies there. On these latest songs Hank walks us through 13 tracks of melodic stories about peace, love both lost and found, flexibility, crisis and calm.
“I’m OK” opens the disc with its playful, McCartney-esk melody, with verses that have a bouncy style that harkens back to another era. The chorus changes musical gears and makes me feel good, calm, like I’m OK too, thanks Hank.
“Elvis” is a snapshot of the King based on one of Presley’s last concerts, in Rapid City, but also a look at the end of the line for the superstar.
Hank sings: “…When he did his judo moves they looked a bit absurd, and ‘Burnin’ Love’ didn’t really burn…” Sigh. Yeah, some fans loved him in spite of Elvis’ final days when “…he looked like he could tell that it was over, just going through the motions one more time…”
His playful “She Knew” has a light reggae summer feel with Dobro tossed in for good measure, “I’m Still Here” is melancholy with birds singing along at one point (close your eyes and lay in a hammock to listen to this one, and the “Can’t Go Back” toe-tapper features some call and response between Hank’s lyrics and instruments – love the light touch on the slide guitar in this one.
While some tunes are playful, there are some “thinkers” on this disc, too.
Hank’s “The Holidays” speaks to how people can feel down in a nation that is preoccupied with family gatherings and heavy duty nostalgia during holidays.
It’s a powerful song that, be warned, may pull tears from your eyes as he observes wryly, almost like a toast: “So here’s to the millions without family or friends, who sing ‘Joy to the World’ and try to pretend, just to make it through the holidays - again.” Great tune.
On “Bend” he tells us not to be so rigid that life and happening break us: “Be like water, be like sand. The willows never fight the wind, they bend…” There’s an odd, long, backwards guitar solo, but it fits with its light touch and meandering feel, like a stream, like the wind. Nice melody, too.
His personality shines through on others, like “Get Away” with its first line: “DJ talkin’ so fast that I can’t understand what he says, I can’t stand what he says…” And “Everyone’s singing about the same old thing, it’s a fantasy, it’s just wishful thinking. Love songs aren’t reality, it’s just Hollywood…”
This disc lived in my car player for a couple of weeks, and I keep coming back to “Get Away” and its sing-along chorus that makes me wonder if Hank is talking about his life in the Black Hills, or a bigger life picture, with the keynote line “Gold and silver, glorified bits of dirt. I’ve been thinking, heaven is made of wood.”
You get to know this group of songs quickly, like “Peace,” a Paul Simon-like tune that would have fit nicely on Simon’s “Kodachrome” album. It’s complete with some Dixie Hummingbird-style backup vocals. This is a full production number, with string sounds, organ and a full mix. It’s worthy of the title cut.
It’s good to know the story behind “Freight Train” while giving this one a listen. Hank once lived in a house near a rail line, and he copied the rhythm of the train as the core of this song. The fiddle fills and style of the song would make this tune feel right at home on the playlist of a broad range of fans, from folk and country to bluegrass fans’ playlists. I bet it has more energy live, though.
Well done, Hank, great project. It will live awhile longer in my automobile CD player, and is a nice disc to come back to in the ol’ CD library and i-Play list.