Harley Kimbro Lewis
This is the debut for this singer-songwriter trio. Harley Kimbro Lewis is a straight-forward acoustic album with a laid-back, back porch feel – three guys singing, picking, and strumming. As they say, they did it the old-fashioned way, writing songs in the morning and rolling the tape in the afternoon. Daniel Kimbro has Appalachian roots, Lewis comes from the Nashville school of songwriting, and Harley is a bluesman from the U.K. Rather than take individual credit for the songs, they share credits on the dozen presented here, although one can discern the different styles, likely tracing to relatively equal contributions from each trio member. It’s the wit and humor along with their ability to make it seem so effortless that makes this an endearing listen.
First, a few words on each before getting to the songs. Harley is a veteran who has toured the world and played in such interesting places as the Himalayas, Mali, and Australia. He is up for the following UK-Americana Music Association Awards as Instrumentalist of the Year, Best Acoustic Guitarist, and Best Acoustic Blues artist. Bassist Kimbro hails from Knoxville and is currently touring with the Jerry Douglas Band supporting John Hiatt. He has appeared on stage with bluegrass, Americana, and pop luminaries. Lewis’ collaborations range from Leon Russell to Chris Stapleton (who dubbed him a “modern day Townes Van Zandt”) and has been generally a solo performer for the past decade.
One gets right into the loose feel of these proceedings with “Grey Man” as the harmonies mesh nicely and Harley gets a chance to display his superb slide playing. The mix is nice and lean, allowing the listener to distinctly hear three voices and three instruments. The protagonist listens to his heartbeat for the lack of anything better to do. “Neighbors” is even more relatable. They are one likely to have the over-the-top Christmas lightshow, you probably rarely see them but accept their eccentricity because they have great pot. Even as one listens to these first two tunes, this is music that would be equally at home anywhere from the ‘30s to the ‘60s. It’s easy to imagine this one getting plenty of spins in those hazy college days of the ‘70s too.
The trio sings about numerous characters we can easily imagine. “Creepin’ Charlie” is about having your heart broken by the popular femme fatale. A clear highlight is Harley’s Hawaiian slide guitar imbued “Cowboy in Hawaii,” about a rather bizarre daydream. “Good Guy” is hilarious – “I’m not a real good man, I’m a real good guy to know.” These guys are having so much fun with songs like this but can adopt a more serious persona too, as evidenced in the antidote to this one, the closer, the bouncy “Man Get Ahold of Yourself.” Another clear standout is the minute details presented in “I Got a Chair,” about the guy whose house is far from perfect but fine with him – “Well I gotta chair at home that squeaks/ I gotta rug at home that stinks/ Hardwood floor that kinda dips/ A kitchen tap that always drips/ Yellow sponges thrown away/ Fruit flies come back every day.”
“Rosary” speaks to life on the road while “Who’s Hungry” is a toe-tapping blues shuffle with an infectious groove. “Tokyo,” on the other hand, is a slow singalong, a lazy banjo accompanied talking blues – “I’m not going to Tokyo unless you’re going to Tokyo too.” “Whiskey Decisions” falls into a similar mode, temp-wise, without the singalong motif. “What to Do” brings back that relaxed toe-tapping vibe that this trio has clearly mastered, another feature for Harley’s slicing slide guitar.
These songs will inevitably make you smile and laugh and in other moments, make you appreciate the songwriting craft and musicianship. Acoustic music, played this well, will endure for years to come, no matter the era.
- Jim Hynes
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