Jason Hawk Harris’ debut, Love & the Dark, blends his Houston country roots with LA orchestral rock. The trials and tribulations that led to the writing and recording of his debut LP read like a check list for life in America: illness, death, familial strife, addiction. In Harris’ able hands, however, these themes move beyond tired tropes and into the realm of rejuvenation. Whether riding a wave of electric guitars or hidden in a subtle lyrical turn, there’s hope, or at least a steely reserve to persevere, on the other side of Harris’ river of tragedies.
“The Smoke and the Stars” sets a somber tone for Love & the Dark with a slow build of acoustic guitar and vocals over a sparse pedal steel. “I don’t like how they stare, I don’t like them at all, my yellow eyed daughters, my cold blooded sons, or the forks in their tongues,” Harris sings showcasing a unique lyrical sensibility as the song crescendos over a bevy of a rock-n-roll powerhouse punch. “Cussing at the Light” introduces us to a more jovial shade of Harris complete with a good time country bounce – it’s the spoon full of sugar to help his medicine go down. In the meantime, he’ll “keep cussing at the light, count the hours until its night, so I can medicate this beat down heart of mine.” “Confused” embraces the songwriting whit and sonic terrain of fellow Texan Lyle Lovett and his Large Band as his vocals duel with crisp piano lines. “I’m confused, I’m confused yeah it’s true, but what’s that got to do with me and you, why can’t I be in love and be confused?” he admits.
“Giving In” cooks with full-band energy guitars, bass, drums, pedal steel, and piano, while “I’m Afraid” further ratchets up the energy to meet the needs of a late night barroom revival. “Phantom Limb” takes a solemn turn as Harris re-imagines his mother’s funeral. “I got this shirt. Smells like the viewing, Formaldehyde, tobacco and tulips, I’ve washed it ten times, and it won’t come out… I wish you’d come back, I wish you’d come back,” he pleas. Release comes on the back of an emotive soaring guitar line as the band builds in symphonic rock accompaniment. “Blessed Inspiration” leans into similar piano-driven orchestral pop reminiscent of ‘70s era Elton John or self-described Texas Piano Man Robert Ellis’ recent work. “Red Room Blues” takes a turn toward the straight-ahead rock of the well-worn American bar band tradition. “I may not do what you want me too,” Harris announces with a wink and a sneer. The slow build of “Grandfather” follows as Harris ties up lyrical loose ends and sonic sensibilities with an imagined conversation with a loved one passed away.
Full of instrumental surprises and a lyrical playfulness that belies the weight of the records themes, Love & the Dark establishes Jason Hawk Harris as a songwriting force that can’t be ignored. Driven to the bottom by unexpected death, bankruptcy, birth defects, and addiction, Jason Hawk Harris found a way to rebuild his life and turn his tragedy into moving art. Let’s hope his muse doesn’t force him down a similarly long and painful path before we hear from him again. https://jasonhawkharris.com/
Reviewed by H.R.Gertner