Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Joel Harrison: Free Country

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

On Free Country guitarist Joel Harrison mixes well-crafted originals with Americana songs, written by Johnny Cash, George Jones, Merle Haggard and Woody Guthrie. For this bucolic expedition, Harrison recruits a motley crew of adventurers consisting of violinist Rob Thomas, drummers Alison Miller and Dan Weiss, bassists Sean Conly and Stephan Crump, saxophonist David Binney, singers Norah Jones, Jen Chapin and Raz Kennedy and a few other players. With the odd assemblage of players, especially with Binney bringing along a sampler and Harrison playing cassette machine, it’s easy to assume that this CD is some sort of Bill Frisell rip-off. Fortunately Harrison’s distinctive compositional acumen quickly squashes that notion.

Harrison complements Norah Jones’ sultry voice with gorgeous, yawning chords alongside Thomas’ emphatic fiddling and Tony Cedras’ swooning accordion on Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” And the guitarist turns out to be a charismatic singer on “Lonesome Road Blues,” his supple baritone voice crooning the somber lyrics with the conviction of a heartbroken truck driver. His misty-eyed rendering of George Jones’ “Tender Years” tugs on the heartstrings without becoming maudlin, while his splendid take on Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” manages to evoke the serene quietness of the countryside and the disquieting tenor of the U.S. the day after 9/11.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.