Will Payne Harrison releases The Stratford Sessions to the world amidst a global pandemic and brings solace to lonely listeners. A tightly focused EP highlighting Harrison’s nimble guitar work and penchant for a turn of phrase built on a foundation of common themes without sounding contrived, The Stratford Sessions is easy on the ears with greater depth revealed upon each spin. Harrison recorded, mixed, mastered, and performed the vast majority of the record himself with assistance from Fawn Larson (harmony vocals, fiddle), Caleb Christopher Edwards (mandolin), Katie Blomarz (upright bass), and Krystin Larsen (harmony vocals). All songs by Harrison except “Caroline” by Daniel Reaux and “Ashes,” a co-write with Yasmine Van Wilt.
“The Good Old Days” sets this collection’s tone with sincere vocals over a swaying back beat as Harrison croons, “the good old days seem so distance, don’t know what you’ve got till you missed it, like cheap beer and rich conversation.” The ballad “Caroline” follows as Harrison calls out, “Caroline, will be mine, you will find, I will be kind, Caroline,“ over casual country guitar and claw hammer banjo. “Caroline why does it seem you’ve got me dancing on a string, I’ll dance with you if you dance with me,” he continues to consider the communication and understanding lacking at times in close human connection. Harrison maintains connection to previous chapters of the American songbook without losing the originality hiding in his lyrical dance.
“Childish Things” and “Clarity” play out as two sides of the same coin while Harrison examines how perspective changes as age and connections shift and fall away. Guitars weave in and out of one another on “Childish Things” as they invoke the feeling of kids running around in the backyard climbing trees, carefree fun in the sun. “I find these days I wish my youth would come back to me, from this side the grass looks a little more green,” Harrison sings as he contemplates his childhood days and his grandparent’s everyday wisdom. He recalls a conversation with his grandfather, “I asked him he got so old, but remembered how to be a kid, he said son you may have to grow up but you never really forget.” “Clarity” finds Harrison searching for peace amidst understanding. “Since the day you walked out on me I can’t get relief,” he sings.
The Stratford Sessions closes with “Ashes,” a contemplative dirge about the end of the material. A solemn solo electric guitar opens onto the wide open plain of Harrison’s plaintive vocal, “I let these vices slow my mind, so I don’t recall the shape of your body next to mine, my heartbeat starts to climb at the sound of you name, but my world’s coming just the same”. The longing in Harrison’s voice is palpable as is his sadness in the small details noted as he contemplates his lost love with his current lover at his side, “so I let our sheets slip to the floor, the arching of her back has me longing for you more, heavy is my heart.”
On The Stratford Sessions, Will Payne Harrison continues to mark out territory in his songwriter soundscape. Harrison’s vocals long for connection and his lyrics bear his heart for all to witness. Pick up a copy of Will Pay Harrison’s The Stratford Sessions and give you ears a tonic for these tough times today. https://willpayneharrison.bandcamp.com