REVIEW: Pete Bernhard’s “Harmony Ascension Division” is Memorable Songs


Pete Bernhard – Harmony Ascension Division

This collection is basically tunes culled from the tradition of singer-songwriters who have come before in a somewhat confessional style & storytelling idiom. Recorded in Vermont, Pete Bernhard, the Devil Makes Three’s frontman/guitarist/ percussionist sews together 9-fairly delightful original unreleased folk confections on his 3rd solo LP.

The self-produced tunes of Harmony Ascension Division (released May 1 – Khan Records) aren’t heavy-duty drizzles of dark poetry, insightful self-introspection, or cleverly written melodic remedies. They are likable, well-articulated, simple tunes that in their spare instrumentation explore good instincts with a purity of music & lyric similar to Nick Drake & John Martyn.

Bernhard has a distinctive enough voice & while, not every song will stick to an ear, he does have interesting immersions into potent song fluency. Bernhard sings about nostalgia, the suicide of a childhood friend, an American road trip & who he met along the way. Songs about losing everything, experiencing heartbreak & with a Townes Van Zandt type spin especially on “Can’t Find You.”

Attractive female backup (Robin MacArthur & Margaret Bernhard) on “I Knew You,” moves the song along to a steady acoustic guitar strum. Pete is joined by Tyler Gibbons (bass), & Bill Esses (percussion).

Pete explores false advertising & expectations, while not being able to let go of what happened in the past blossoms from “Dancin’” one of the best melodies on the LP.

“Have you seen my baby, she doesn’t give a damn, have you seen my baby, with a .38 in her hand?” Borders on Randy Newman-Tom Waits turn of phrase. Yet, Pete keeps it folky. There are songs about getting through hard times, what needs to be left behind, having no regrets about what could’ve gone better.

Track 6 is a jewel — “Down the Line,” with its bright acoustic picking reminiscent of an old 1930’s back porch blues approach & J.J. Cale spirit. Assertive & stylistic with Pete’s pinched vocals that add authenticity. “I know death is coming and I don’t want to waste no time..” All blues LP in his future?

Introspective lyrics, some soul-searching & willingness to change merge on the individual tracks & in most cases in a rich absorbing folk-blues manner, in others just scattershot. Not all the darts hit the board.

Pete’s voice is indulging though not commanding. He doesn’t have a multi-octave range, isn’t a baritone like Fred Neil, controversial as Phil Ochs, or gritty like Buddy Miller. But you know, his tender voice has melody, personality, like Seatrain’s John Gregory on the lyrically clever “Rondo,” which is a good example. Sometimes that’s enough.

Overall, many memorable songs. The music’s suitable for the tales excavated. At least we know where our new singer-songwriters & folk artists will come from.

The 31-minute CD is available at iTunes.


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