At this year’s AmericanaFest, the publisher of Americana Highways, Melissa Clarke, caught an exciting new act, Jaimee Harris. Harris, who Clarke named one of her highlights of the festival (see here), was playing with the celebrated Mary Gauthier and highly respected Austin musician Bonnie Whitmore (Hayes Carll, Kelly Willis). This past Friday, Harris released her stunning debut album, Red Rescue. Drawing favorable comparisons to Ryan Adams, among others, Red Rescue may just be the Americana debut of the year.
Red Rescue reflects many years of work by Harris on her songwriting. She shared her lyrics with me, and there were the dates on the songs. While one was written just last year, many date back several years, one as far back as 2013. While some artists rush to get an album out, Harris’s deliberate approach allowed her and her producer, Craig Ross (Patty Griffin), to choose an outstanding mix of original sounds. The great philosopher Hannah Arendt once said that a dictator rules that by demands, and an authority figure rules by respect. With Red Rescue, Jaimee Harris does not so much demand you listen with her bold, creative songwriting as command your respect and attention for her voice.
On many albums, I can anticipate the lyrics. Harris’s writing goes in unexpected directions. On the second verse of the lead track, “Damn Right,” she sings: “Damn right I’m angry – I gave you what I could, You never asked for more, And what I offered wasn’t good enough to thrill you, Or to make you stick around, So I’m hiding out in every corner of this town – so.” This leads into the unforeseen, “No one will see the cuts I’ve made on my own hands.” At this point, the listener might be asking, is this another awful, navel-gazing song about cutting? But it isn’t, as the next line makes clear that the cuts are “From punching out the walls.” With trite, clichéd songwriting abounding, Harris is a breath of fresh of air.
As good as the songwriting on Red Rescue is, the musicality of the album is equally phenomenal. Harris and Ross have weaved an eminently listenable, lush Americana tapestry, drawing equally from folk, rock, and country, and you can get drawn into the melodies as much as the lyrics. This is due in no small part to the formidable talents contributing to the album. Bonnie Whitmore plays bass. BettySoo provides backing vocals on two tracks. (For more about Betty Soo, click this sentence.) In one of his last recordings, the late, great Jimmy LaFave contributed backing vocals to the title track. Harris herself does excellent work on the acoustic guitar, and the combination of her singing, playing, and songwriting—as well as her undeniable star quality— really do earn her the comparisons to a young Ryan Adams.
Red Rescue may be a debut record, but this is the work of an artist of considerable maturity and sophistication. She has already produced a work of that far surpasses what most musicians ever will. This could very well mark the arrival of one of the major figures in the next generation of Americana artists. We look forward to what the future holds for Jaimee Harris. Investigate for yourself, here: https://www.jaimeeharris.com/