Artist: JP Harris
Album: Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing
Label: Free Dirt Records
Genre: Outlaw, Alt-Country, Country
This week I bring to you an album that was introduced to me by a new friend—thanks, Devon! Montgomery born, Nashville based JP Harris is certainly more than meets the eye. This man has lived every country song. The more I find out about him, the more drawn to his life story I become. He left home after finishing the eighth grade at the age of fourteen and spent some time in Oakland, California. He was drawn to the Bay Area where the 80s and 90s punk scene influenced his early musical career. He spent a year in Arizona as a sheep herder for a group of Navajo elders and train jumped across the USA, ending up in Halifax, Vermont where he stayed for a little over a decade before moving to Nashville. In those ten years he worked an array of jobs—sheet metal scrapper, orchard worker, farmer laborer, heavy equipment operator, and logger, but he found his passion as a carpenter. Because of this, Harris doesn’t necessarily consider himself a country singer, but humbly, a carpenter who writes country songs.
From the age of sixteen up until his relocation to Nashville, Harris lived in remote cabins without electricity or running water. An adventurous off the gridder’s dream. Just the idea of the stories he could tell is enough to make my head spin. Harris admits that he didn’t appreciate, or even start playing country music until he’d gone off on his own, “The reason country music became more resonant with me as I got older is that it’s sort of identifiable by anybody. Everybody’s just working to get by, and country music just happens to be the soundtrack to that.”
However, despite his late introduction to country music Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing is undeniably country. A first glance at the album cover would lead you to believe the album were perhaps a rock album, metal even, maybe even folk, but a few bars into the first song, “JP’s Florida Blues #1,” you’ll find that none of those are the case. It’s country through and through. From the production to the lyrics and this album is chock full of what one would only have to assume are tidbits from his many adventures throughout his stranger-than-fiction life. Do yourself a huge favour and listen really closely to the lyrics of each song and you’ll be able to piece things together.
To add to the intricacy of the album, Harris roped in a few of his favourite musicians to play on it. Leroy Powell, Chance McCoy (Old Crow Medicine Show), Mark Sloan, Kellen Wenrich and Eric Pollard. To encourage creativity, he sent acoustic demos to each of the musicians, making sure they didn’t discuss it with one another before giving them each five days to plot their ideas. Then they all headed into the studio to produce the album with Morgan Jahnig of Old Crow Medicine Show.
I won’t do you the disservice of breaking down each song, but there is one in particular I’d like to talk about. “Lady in the Spotlight” brings to mind Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Face on the Cutting Room Floor” and I’m definitely here for it. In the age of the #MeToo movement, I feel that it’s come along at the perfect time. While the rest of the entertainment industry had brave women coming out of the woodwork with unfortunately, many similar stories, country music remained mostly silent on the subject. I have endless amounts of praise for Harris as not a single song on his album speaks ill of the female half of the population. There’s no degradation or demeaning of us women, in fact, Harris seems more of an advocate for women’s rights than anything else.
Now, I know not everyone looks into the songs and the lyrics of the music they listen to as deeply I do, but if anything else, you have to appreciate Harris’ gritty vocals and impeccable vibrato complimented by a soothing fiddle, crying steel, and electric guitars. That voice isn’t something you can simply ignore.
Favourite songs: Lady in the Spotlight, When I Quit Drinking, I Only Drink Alone,