Black Country americana really should be a ‘thing’.
Given the number of new routes to market largely created as a result of that wondrous invention, t’Interweb, it is little wonder that so many artists – new and old – are taking the independent option when it comes to releasing new material. The sophomore album for JR Harbidge, ‘Long Black River’, is one such example, but the DIY approach doesn’t end there. In addition to releasing the album, Harbidge has written or co-written all the songs, plays a lot of the instruments, including guitar, mandolin, banjo, and various electronic bits and pieces, produced a self-made video for single release ‘Wrong Side of the Fight’, produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the whole shebang, and even the press release is picture free and produced in courier font. (Young ‘uns, look it up.) All in all very refreshing.
The album almost didn’t make it to market at all, as 80% of the originally recorded music was lost due to a….ahem….’PC mishap.’ As it happens Cannock-based Harbidge says the music recorded better the second time around, which is great news as the final product is really rather good.
There are a number of very strong influences on the album, particularly post-Beatles Lennon as well as hints of Jackson Browne/Eagles. Some songs have been a long time in planning; the title track – interestingly put at the end of the album – was first conceived while still at school and only completed for this album when Harbidge turned 41. Opener ‘Wrong Side of the Fight’ chugs along pleasantly, with organ holding guitars, piano and harmonies together through a song about the stubbornness of accepting mistakes made and owning up to prejudice. ‘Break The Spell’ is a catchy little number, with a harmonious chorus which wouldn’t have been out of place on any West Coast 80s collection. The Hammond features again here and indeed across the record provides a layer of flavour that greatly enhances the overall sound.
There are songs of loss, family tragedy, the joy of his son, the financial crash and even one about experiencing the Holocaust. There are strong country songs ‘Sunshine, Not Rain’, ‘You Saved Me Twice’, folk tinges on ‘Wrong Side of the Fight’ and closing the album, the title track is a quite dark blues number. In addition to the outstanding organ sound throughout, there is excellent guitar work on ‘Break The Spell’ and ‘Open The Door’, this latter track evoking a little ‘Tears In Heaven’ Clapton.
A couple of tracks feel a little obvious, maybe naive, in their musical and lyrical construction but overall this is a very listenable album. Perhaps Black Country americana could become a ‘thing’.