Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Back in May 2021 I had the very real pleasure of reviewing JR Harbidge’s Long Black River album, a wonderful Americana/Country Rock album with fabulous songs and excellent production.
It was certainly a highlight of that genre back in that year and it was with great anticipation and pleasure that I received the review copy of the latest JR Harbidge album, Reincarnation Blues.
Fans of Long Black River and indeed fans of quality Country-Rock will have no disappointment with this new album, which delivers another consistently good set of songs delivered in quite some style. Unashamedly influenced by the greats of 70s Country-Rock, this album, like Long Black River, expertly manages to doff a cap to its influences while still sounding current and still sounding just like JR Harbidge.
Title track, ‘Reincarnation Blues’ opens the album and straight away one is immersed in the velvety-warm vocals and gentle, bluesy Soft-Rock stylings that were so prevalent on previous recordings. Lashings of Hammond organ and laid-back Blues lead guitar fills give the track a gloriously relaxed vibe. I’m actually writing this review in 25 degrees of sunny early autumn warmth sat under a tree by a river and it is literally the perfect soundtrack to such a morning!
‘Hard’ rolls along at a similarly laid-back pace, but this time with a wonderful West-Coast Country-Rock vibe. Bluesy Dobro licks and layers of strummed acoustic guitars drive the track along. Harbidge’s vocals are a delight too. Nothing is overblown, just delivered in a beautifully emotive fashion. This relaxed vibe continues into ‘Good People’, which has a similarly Country-Rock style with slight echoes of The Eagles in its delivery.
‘Don’t Pass Me By’ has a tiny bit more fire in its belly and more grit in the delivery; stylistically, the nearest reference point would probably be some of the tracks from The Eagles’ Long Run album. There are some quite delightful 70s style electric pianos in this one, but otherwise it’s business as usual with politely soft-rocking electric guitars, acoustic guitars and some lovely and beautifully understated lead guitar playing driving this with an inexorable groove.
‘Hope, Light, Spirit’ continues the themes already explored, but with an even more irresistible groove and some very lovely, almost jazzy guitar work behind the acoustics and Hammond organs. The more this album plays, the more the listener becomes sucked into the warm, fuzzy glow of Harbidge’s vocals which are absolutely perfect for this style of music. His delivery just sounds effortlessly good on everything he touches.
‘Remember How We Used To Be’ ups the ante with the guitars – big overdriven chords driving the song along while supporting guitars deliver an almost funky single note melody line over the verses. The guitar solo has a bit more fire in its delivery too – all Classic Rock licks with a quite stunning tone. All of this is underpinned by gorgeous Hammond organ counterpoint melodies: the arrangement and production on this one really is quite something – there are even some classic 1970s handclaps in there! This is probably my favourite track on the album.
‘High Hopes’ then continues the slightly harder-rocking theme. Harbidge really pushes his vocal on this one, adding a bit of classy Rock rasp into proceedings and it works brilliantly! Big chunky electric guitars and honky-tonk pianos give this a gorgeous 70s Classic Rock feel.
The more uptempo vibe is continued into ‘Drowning In The Dark’, which also features more of those wonderfully stretched vocals. I really love the way that this album has built up over the course of its duration, starting out all delicate and laid-back and gradually opening up and rocking out a bit harder in its mid-section. I suppose it’s still very much what you might call Soft-Rock – there’s nothing heavy or too Hard Rock here, but when it’s delivered as well as this who cares? It certainly proves that ‘Soft Rock’ isn’t a dirty word!
After a couple of uptempo belters, Harbidge then drops back into semi-ballad territory with the beautifully bluesy and soulful Americana/Country-Rock of ‘Why Do We Stay’. This is another perfect production job; the way the time signature alters into (I think) 6/8 time for the choruses (from a straight 4/4) is superb and the guitar solo is another emotive and bluesy foray that just drips with soulful feeling.
The album ends with the quite glorious ‘This Old Tennessee’ and it was on first listen to this track that I finally realised who Harbidge’s vocal reminds me of: US artist Jude Cole, a long-time favourite of mine from way back. This is a truly beautiful track that once again is wonderfully put together. Lyrically, it’s a delightful homage to the classic music from Tennessee, which of course is home to all manner of Country, Americana and Blues music. It’s a lovely piece of Country-influenced Soft Rock and is pretty much the perfect way to close this album.
I absolutely love this record! I love the fact that it is meticulously put together, beautifully arranged and immaculately produced. I love the fact that nothing is too overblown; it doesn’t need to be. The songwriting is strong, melodic and insightful.
The playing and singing is absolutely excellent throughout and the pacing of the album really works, with a leisurely beginning, building to a crescendo around track 6 – 8 and then finishing with the laid-back vibe it started with. I have to confess that very little in the Country and Americana genres has really grabbed me this year, but this album is one of the very clear exceptions. It’s absolutely superb and comes very highly recommended indeed.