Impressive alt-country telling of a mother’s death and the subsequent healing.
‘Thin Places’ is an unusual album in that it is nearly all concerned with one event, the death of Jason Hawk Harris’ mother, and its aftermath; it is hard to think of anything similar. It was written at a traumatic time for Harris where, in addition to the death, his father had been made bankrupt, his touring van stolen and then destroyed and he was in debt from making his first album ‘Love & The Dark’. If this all wasn’t enough, the pandemic had struck and Harris could not tour and so could not make the money to pay off debts. However, it gave him “a thin place” where he had the time to come to terms with the death and also to create this album, hence the title given to it.
Musically, there are echoes of Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle but with more country flavour with many songs driven along wonderfully by steel guitar. Harris’ classical music background can be heard in the strings on some songs which sound good even though the notes and melodies are not always like your typical country fiddle. His arrangements at times also seem more original and complex than much americana.
The music, often lively and catchy, might seem to be at odds with the serious lyrics but somehow the juxtaposition is fine. ‘Shine a Little Light’, which is swinging honky-tonk with piano that you could line dance to, details his drinking and looking for fights in the days after the funeral. ‘Roll’ has an anthemic chorus that belies the hurt in the lyrics “I ain’t seen your tombstone yet/It’s too soon, man I can’t do that”. Country music often has lyrics that are sentimental, maudlin or self-pitying but there is none of that here; Harris gives an honest, clear and realistic account of events and his feelings.
The album starts with the single ‘Jordan And the Nile’ which has a slightly religious, hymn-like feel, where the death is introduced: “I’m half an orphan since she went that way”. It is followed by the excellent ‘Bring Out The Lilies’ where Harris feels a disconnect with the others at his mother’s funeral: “Feels like everyone’s smiling and singing and praising too soon”. In ‘The Abyss’ Harris recalls his mother in the ICU and the despair at reading her diaries, which suggest that she was abused as a girl. However, it ends with a dream where his mother speaks and smiles at him, helping him to move on. The next two tracks ‘I’m Getting By’ and ‘So Damn Good’ then talk of his healing, helped by his partner, and give a positive slant to the album.
Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me In Your Heart For A While’ is given a much lusher musical arrangement than the original; this works well even if the song doesn’t quite fit lyrically with the rest of the album. ‘White Berets’, with its dream-like lyrics, finishes off the album and mentions the River Jordan to link to the first track.
The strong lyrics and excellent music make this one of the albums of the year. It is no surprise that he has many loyal fans who responded within days when he crowdfunded to get the money to make it.