Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Long Black River’ is the new album by Americana/Country-Rock artist J R Harbidge and is a delightful mix of laid-back Eagles-esque West Coast Country-Rock and Heartland Rock/Americana. Harbridge’s vocals are a particular joy.
In most of the tracks, they are smooth and velvety, effortless in their delivery, and have a genuine warmth about them.
In others they are powerful and more aggressive. He really uses his voice well within the parameters of each song. The music is mostly driven by acoustic guitars, piano and Hammond organ and is perfect listening for a lazy sunny afternoon with a beer or two, but every now and then Harbidge throws in a curveball and rocks it all up. It’s a really good mix of styles that sit very well together.
The songs are extremely melodic throughout and there isn’t a weak track on here. ‘Wrong Side of the Fight’ sets the scene for the rest of the album perfectly and is a delightful slice of Eagles-esque country/rock. Driven by strummed acoustic guitars, tinkling piano, subtle washes of Hammond organ and delightful harmony vocals, this is a lovely way to open the album. It has a light, airy sound and is pretty much the blueprint for several of the tracks.
‘Break the Spell’ is more of the same, but with some nice subtle electric guitars adding to the mix. The harmonies on this one are as West Coast as they come – it’s a glorious trip back to the Country-Rock stylings of the 1970s. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that this is just a dated nostalgia trip. Far from it! The writing and arrangements may have that classic 70s feel, but the production is up to date, crisp and clear.
Although many songs do follow the classic Country-Rock format, there are a few tracks where Harbidge mixes it up a little. ‘We Don’t Talk About It’ is a delightful piano and acoustic guitar-led ballad, which is a nice change of pace from what has gone before. A string section adds some delicate flavour to the chorus, which demonstrates more harmonic complexity than the previous two tracks via some rather Beatles-esque chord changes.
‘You Saved Me Twice’ has a more Country feel to the structure and production in the verses, but then throws a bit of a curveball with the sort of ‘whoa whoa’ chorus you’d expect from modern country and pop artists. It’s as catchy as hell and really works! The Country feel continues with ‘Open the Door’, which isn’t unlike some of John Mayer’s more Country-sounding tracks. The electric lead guitar is very fine on this track and the harmony vocals add to the infectiousness of the chorus on what is probably this reviewer’s favourite track on the album.
‘We Don’t Like It’ is a much more aggressive track with more bite to the electric guitars and with heavily processed vocals. Harbidge’s lead vocal really steps up here – he’s singing higher up in his range and really belts out the lyric, spitting the lines out in aggressive, powerful fashion. It really suits him and contrasts beautifully with what has gone before, yet still manages to sound completely cohesive within the album as a whole.
The album ends with the excellent title track which contains some very fine Jimi Hendrix influenced guitar lines (the solo is excellent) and more processed vocals in a wonderful and highly atmospheric track which is just bursting with light and shade.
Once again, the chorus is highly melodic (despite the dark lyrical themes) and, like the previous track, the vocals have more aggression and power than in the earlier more acoustic-led tracks.
This and the previous track are the only ones on the album with such aggression and power and is something that Harbidge could consider doing more of in future releases, as he certainly has the voice for it! This is another standout track and is a superb way to end a very, very fine album. Highly recommended!