Harper Simon is the long awaited self-titled debut album from Paul Simon's son Harper. Taking psychedelic country and rock music of the late 1960’s and 70’s as inspiration the ten-track album features a whole host of legendary production and musical talent. Recorded in Nashville (with Bob Johnston (Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen) on production duties), Los Angeles and New York, guest musicians include: Charlie McCoy (Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde
, Nashville Skyline
) pedal steel player Lloyd Green (The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo
), drummer Gene Chrisman (Dusty in Memphis
, Aretha Franklin’s "You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman"), along with Sean Lennon and Paul Simon himself. Tracey Emin even contributed the cover art.
There’s something very noble about following in one’s father’s footsteps, maintaining a family tradition through a chosen profession, safeguarding the reputation of a blood line. In music, though, successful sons and daughters aren’t as abundant in the mainstream pop world as they might be – Sean Lennon’s yet to make good on great promise, while lightly hyped Sting-offspring I Blame Coco is shaping up to be every bit as divisive as her father. As Harper Simon, son of Paul, acknowledges on this overdue debut album: “there are more wishes than stars.” Many have aimed, most have missed.
But this eponymous disc, which clocks in at a refreshingly brief 30 minutes, could nudge Harper out from his father’s shadow. Not that he makes things easy for himself: throughout there are echoes of Graceland’s author, in both Harper’s gentle alto vocals and the bright, airy arrangements of Ha Ha and nostalgic closer Berkeley Girl. But Harper’s assembling of a vastly experienced team of session musicians, combined with an ear for delightful melodies and a cute couplet, makes for a record that’s deceptively enjoyable. It does little, ultimately, but it does it very well.
The album’s first few numbers are reminiscent of Elliott Smith. An affecting lilt characterises these folk-hued acoustic tracks, and mixing from Tom Rothrock, who produced three of Smith’s albums, increases the potency of this parallel. The songs that kick up a little dust – Cactus Flower Rag, Shooting Star – are tinged with country pedal steel, courtesy of Lloyd Green. He, like harmonica player Charlie McCoy, played with Johnny Cash: confirmation of the quality of contributor Harper has been able to call upon for this release.
Paul Simon co-wrote a couple of these songs – fair enough, given the inspiration Harper provided him in the 1970s – and there are appearances from Inara George (daughter of Little Feat’s Lowell George) and in-demand violinist Petra Haden (daughter of Ornette Coleman bassist Charlie Haden). But throughout it’s Harper’s still-developing talent that shines brightest – if he builds upon this pleasant, unfussy debut, turning down the cliché just a tad, he could produce a classic of his own. Not a Bridge Over Troubled Water beater, but there’s evidence here that he could eclipse the old man’s Sounds of Silence, at least. --Mike Diver
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