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Record of the week: Matt Harlan - Bow and Be Simple

www.matthewharlan.com

Houston-based Matt Harlan made quite an impact with his first album, Tips and Compliments.  Bow and Be Simple, mostly recorded in a single day with a Danish band led by M C Hansen, should cement his reputation as a substantial songwriter. There’s a fluid self- confidence to his writing that at times comes close to matching early Dylan for a clear-eyed description of the world as he sees it. There’s a lovely, very original, love song to close the album but otherwise there’s a rough split between social commentary and existential matters.

The more beautiful or the jollier the music gets, the more likely it is that he’s dealing with pretty serious subject matter. The Ring, for example, deals with domestic abuse but the tender beauty of Matt’s singing and of the arrangement belies the harshness of the tale. Similarly, the relaxed, cheerful shuffle of The Easy Road is in contrast to the litany of disrupted lives that the lyric details, as Matt turns his writer’s eye to the current economic disruption. He has a wonderful, Dylanesque talent for nailing big concepts with a jokey pithiness: “the easy road has taken us for granted” runs the refrain in this song. “Seems as though we’ve taken it the same” he continues, and you maybe have to think about that for a moment before the truth of it sinks in. There isn’t a song here without lines of similar quality, and I particularly like this couplet from Darker Shade of Grey:

“Some say the world revolves around the slow pull of the sun/But I’m learning it’s the darker things that get the moving done”.

The Danish band are really good, always sympathetic to the feel of the song; it’s difficult to describe the sound they make, given that you could say that this is country-infused folk that also has a definite rock sensibility in the mix. I presume it’s M C Hansen contributing the beautiful electric guitar embellishments to Too Much Going On, so gentle and contemplative, whilst Rachel Jones’ additional vocals (sometimes harmonising, sometimes trading lead with Matt) bring an extra dimension to these songs. The most intense arrangements are on songs that deal with keeping your life on track when doubts and dark thoughts threaten your equilibrium. Elevator Ride, for example, is about the relentless cycle of the office worker’s life, “chasing money like the cure for some disease” and facing the elevator ride to the 22nd floor day after day.

The title song is the simplest and possibly the most old-fashioned – a touch of the old Shaker hymns about it. In a refreshing contrast to the egocentric culture of the last few decades, Matt vows to “walk humble and patient…and search for the truth in the stories I’m told”. He’s not preaching at us, he’s just (mostly) at peace with himself and has a poet’s need to understand the world he finds himself in.  With a knack for melodies that seem to have been around forever, he makes it easy to get into these songs and his distinctive, high-quality writing should ensure that we hear a lot more from Matt Harlan.   

John Davy

 

 

 


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September 2018

1
The Devil Makes Three
70 pts.
Chains Are Broken
New West
FC,JB,RK,TJ,LK
2
Jimmy LaFave
65 pts.
Peace Town
Music Road Records
PKO
3
Malcolm Holcombe
48 pts.
Come Hell Or High Water
Gypsy Eyes Music
FB,JBO
4
Cody Canada & the Departed
47 pts.
3
Blue Rose Records
CVL,DHO
5
Jeffrey Foucault
43 pts.
Blood Brothers
Blueblade Records
MB,SZ
6
The War And Treaty
42 pts.
Healing Tide
Thirty Tigers
FCE,AL,MG
7
Martha Fields
40 pts.
Dancing Shadows
Independent
SP,DH,RST,RW
8
The Weight Band
35 pts.
World Gone Mad
Must Have Music
DD,CRS,BM
9
David Olney
32 pts.
This Side Or The Other
Black Hen Music
LM
 
The Black Sorrows
32 pts.
Citizen John
Blue Rose Records
 
11
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis
31 pts.
Wild Wild Wild
Bloodshot Records
GS
12
Hadley McCall Thackston
28 pts.
Hadley McCall Thackston
Wolfe Island Records
 
 
Nathan Bell
28 pts.
Er Gwaetha Pawb a Phopeth
Angry Stick
PK
14
Curse Of Lono
26 pts.
As I Fell
Submarine Cat Records
MM,JF
15
Ryan Martin
25 pts.
Gimme Some Light
High Moon
 
 
Stephen Simmons
25 pts.
Gall
Locke Creek Records
TK,HDB
17
Jason McNiff
23 pts.
Joy And Independence
At The Helm Records
 
 
Jim Lauderdale
23 pts.
Time Flies
Yep Roc
 
 
Kevin Gordon
23 pts.
Tilt and Shine
Crowville Media
MP
20
Eliza Gilkyson
21 pts.
Secularia
Red House Records
KG,JJC
21
Boz Scaggs
20 pts.
Out Of the Blues
Concord Records
BH,JSM
 
Lucero
20 pts.
Among The Ghosts
Thirty Tigers
JJ
 
Melissa Carper & Rebecca Patek
20 pts.
Brand New Old-Time Songs
Independent
MW
24
The Jayhawks
17 pts.
Back Roads and Abandoned Motels
Legacy
 
25
Lori McKenna
16 pts.
Tree
Cn Records

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