A man of many talents
From the Autumn 2003 issue.
By Jesse Harris
Blue Thumb / Verve Records: 2003
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Yeah, he's a little bit country. And a little bit jazz, blues, rock and pop ...
Whether you know it or not, you've heard at least one Jesse Harris song.
Who, you're probably asking. Well, you needn't be in the dark much longer, because I am about to let you in on one of indie-rock's best-kept secrets.
The man known at the moment in certain circles as "the guy who wrote Norah Jones' stuff" is actually a brilliant musician in his own right. Curly-haired with Elvis Costello-style specs, Harris looks a bit like a young philosophy professor. Or the guy sitting next to you in the library doing graduate thesis research.
For all I know, he may well have considered taking up either of the above, but my interest in the guy lies in his ability to be a musical jack of many-a-trade. He plays a mean acoustic guitar and can sing damn near as well as the operatically ranged, late and beautiful Jeff Buckley. His balladic timing on "The Secret Sun," his 2003 effort, is essentially perfect; the bridges of each song on it hit where they should like an insightful topic sentence in a good paper (sorry I'm an English major). His songs are real, down-to-earth and meaningful.
Consider his Dylan Thomas-esque lyrics to "The Secret Sun":
Many lives have come between
You and me, the secret scene
But back there in the orange light
There'll be no fear of the night
And time won't move at all
Time won't move at all ...
Besides his poetic appeal, there's another reason why Jesse's made it into my Top Ten, a reason that all of you rock purists will understand: he hasn't sold out. Harris still primarily plays little hole-in-the-wall venues in NYC, has kept mum as hell about his vital role in Jones' FM-radio success, and still produces his own albums. In other words he's about as far from John Mayer as it's possible to get, meaning that he can also actually sing.
One rather large caveat, though: Harris won't appeal to the G&R or DC 101 enthusiast. He plays acoustically, favors piano accompaniment and harmonization, and has only one song on his latest record that even I, a devoted Ryan Adams fan, would call "upbeat."
Wanna get an idea of what Harris sounds like? Think Elliott Smith with vocal talent and decent word content and you'll have a pretty accurate picture. So for all you Miss Jones die-hards: Give the album a listen. Norah and you both owe Jesse as much.
Review by Anath Hartmann. Anath is a writer living in Washington, D.C.