Pennsylvania duo Native Harrow’s Closeness is a wondrous folk marriage of lonely lyricism with the hand hold of beautifully warm and melodically earnest (and even hopeful) melodies.
This is Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter music that irons on all those patches (a la Neil Young on the cover of After the Goldrush) to cover a bruised heart that’s “all over the place” but still bumps with “the beauty in sharing what it is to suffer and triumph over the human experiences we all endure”.
And, speaking of that before-mentioned word, marriage, (the great) Richard Thompson spoofed the ceremony in his song, ‘Nobody’s Wedding’, which asks the essential question, “Who stole the groom and who stole the bride?” And it also asks the obvious RT observation, “Why is the wild boy chopping up the floor?” Now, (the equally great) Arlo Guthrie simply sings in his ‘Wedding Song’, “There’s a wedding down at the church this morning/Let’s go and wish them well”.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, often says, “Life is a soccer (known correctly to the rest of the civilized world as football!) match between absurdity and hope, and it’s a match that usually ends in a tie”.
That said, Closeness is all about melodic resolutions. Given the times, thank you Native Harrow for that. And, throwing caution into a cliché (and maintaining the marriage motive), let’s just say the album is filled with delightful folk music stuff—stuff that’s old, new, barrowed, and, of course, blue—but not necessarily in that order.
First, the new wrinkles in those old patched jeans. The lead-off track, ‘Shake,’ does just that, and rattles and rolls with an infectious wide-open vocal from Devin Tuel (aka Native Harrow), while partner Steve Harms’s guitar buzzes and descends to melodically counter the up-beat melody. ‘If I Could’ pops and fizzes with musical joie de vivre. Again, Devin’s voice is bright starshine in the darkest solstice night sky. She keeps company with (the great) Joan Baez, and other favs like Tish Hinojosa, Kacy Anderson (of Kacy & Clayton fame!), Aimee Mann, Joni Mitchell (more about whom later), Laura Marling, and Nanci Griffith–all very different, but all with beauty to burn. And speaking of beauty, ‘Smoke Burns’ is a sole planet orbiting one of those solstice stars, and could well be the soundtrack to a filmed chrysalis opening in its slow-motioned expectant time.
Hyperbole? Sure! But it’s still a lovely song.
Borrowed? Well, Closeness, as a whole, certainly glances to the Laurel Canyon 70’s vibe. Specifically, ‘The Dying Of Ages’, with its acoustic guitar and brisk flute sound, rides in a ‘Ventura Highway’ groove. (Nothing wrong with that!) And ‘Even Peace” pulses with an acoustic “choogle” of a John Fogerty/CCR song like ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ (big compliment, there!) before it blossoms to into a catchy country-tinged tune. A lot of warm memories here—and yet another marriage motif as Devin says (on their website), Closeness “exists at the intersection of two winding roads; time and motion”.
The old stuff – (more hyperbole, perhaps) but a personified Mississippi River (whose name, by the way, originated in the Ojibwe or Algonquin title, ‘Misi-ziibi’, aka ‘Great River’), certainly hummed this very same spiritual and gospel purity of the song, ’Even Peace’, long before Hernando de Soto stumbled into its Big Muddy waters. And ‘Turn Turn’ is deep with torch-song depth, with a quiet foray into a clever jazzy guitar bit.
Last, of course, all things Blue: and, yes, ‘Same Every Time’ and ‘Feeling Blue’ do conjure the introspective 70’s sound of Joni Mitchell. The former has the breezy tone of ‘Free Man In Paris’, while the latter is a simple piano-framed musical soliloquy (and soulful tune with an oddly somewhat up-beat pulse) that follows in the wake of Blue’s title track or, perhaps, ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’. This is earnest folk music, the type of which, believe it or not, actually received radio play long ago on less commercially inclined airways. To quote the Apple protégée, Mary Hopkins, “Those were the days, my friend”.
The final song, ‘Sun Queen’ gets cosmic with a sonic pursuit “up where stars are born” that glances back at our dear Mother Earth (with, I believe, a mellotron in tow!) and sings, with a friendly universal wave, “Put your heart to mine/We can take it higher”. Yeah, there’s more slow-motioned time, but now, that “time” and its dancing partner, “motion”, are resolved in a blended and patient harmony.
“And’, as The Beatles sang, “in the end/The love you take is equal to the love you make”. In a nonsectarian (and trying really hard not to offend anyone way), Closeness sort of professes the ritualistic axiom, “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder”. Sure, “Put your heart to mine”, and that (sort of again!) echoes William Blake’s final comment in his Marriage Of Heaven And Hell, that declares, “For everything that lives is Holy”.
I think folk music (except for, of course, the odd incestuous, demon-inhabited, murder ballad, or two) sings that very same message, over and over again.
That said, in a world in which our ever-faithful fatalist Richard Thompson is still asking the always pertinent question, “Why is the wild boy (with a whole lot of his “wild boy” friends these days) chopping up the floor?”, Native Harrow simply echoes Arlo Guthrie’s, equally simple comment, “let’s go wish them well”. And that’s exactly what Closeness does: It wishes us all something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue–and with that a measure of good luck to each and all, which in these troubling times, is a pretty nice deal. And that’s a wonderous thing for any record album to ever do.
Artists’ website: https://www.nativeharrow.com/
‘Shake’ – official video:
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