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Joel Harrison: Work & Progress

“I believe that my music is an American story"

Joel Harrison (l.) with sarod player Anupam Shobhakar, NYC, 2011
Joel Harrison, in his basement with his Les Paul and Marshall in 1974
Joel Harrison, center, with bassist Michael Bates (l.) and drummer Jeremy "Bean" Clemons in Mother Stump
Joel Harrison's String Choir (l. to r.): Harrison, Christian Howes, Sam Bardfeld, Mat Maneri and Hank Roberts
Joel Harrison 19 at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in 2014

“I can’t tell you how weird it is to have made Mother Stump when I was 56,” Joel Harrison says of his 2014 release, an 11-track program culled from an array of American music genres-and the first of his 20 or so albums that he could call “my own guitar record.” Spurred by keyboardist Glenn Patscha, bassist Michael Bates and drummer Jeremy Clemons, Harrison imbues each performance with a specific tonal and emotional identity, singing through a half-dozen prized guitars with a tone analogous to a raw, unfiltered voice.

Harrison extracts harmonic skronk from a 1999 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe to create a speaking-in-tongues effect on the spiritual “John the Revelator” and a first take of Paul Motian’s “Folk Song for Rosie.” He bends notes on an overtone-rich 1930 National Steel “Style ‘O'” guitar to transform the second version of “Rosie” into an acoustic blues. On a 1960 Fender Telecaster, he howls on the original “Do You Remember Big Mama Thornton?” and projects desolate pathos on the Blood, Sweat & Tears/Donny Hathaway vehicle “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.” His lustrous-toned 1960 Epiphone Sorrento underscores the message on two takes of Buddy Miller’s “Wide River to Cross”; his pristine articulation on a Jerry Jones baritone of indeterminate vintage illuminates a simplicity-itself reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” He deploys a 1967 Gibson ES-345 to render George Russell’s “Stratusphunk,” the elegiac Luther Vandross hit “Dance With My Father” and his own original “Refuge.”

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