Stephen Harrison is a something of a music industry veteran. From his early days as a teen, playing in Edinburgh’s post-punk scene and the electronic experimentation that followed, through rock and out the other side, he’s arrived back at the simple pleasures of one man and his acoustic guitar. It Starts With The Soul is – deep breath – his ninth solo album and the third to feature the more stripped-down sound he’s been working on of late.
It’s an intimate collection of songs, with often rather enigmatic and downbeat lyrics accompanied – occasionally counterpointed – with Harrison’s lyrically picked guitar style. The title track opening with the bleak, “By the way there’s a weight hanging down on my soul” is set against a gentle guitar that evokes wide open skies. Repeated sung phrases reinforce the highly stylised nature of the piece.
An allegory for a broken relationship, ‘Trains’ uses the guitar to supply the train-like rhythm. ‘Folly’ contemplates environmental damage whilst ‘Iago’ considers Shakespeare’s villainously manipulative character. For a complete change of mood, ‘Show The Summer To The Spring’ is a straight-up love song, a rare flash of sunlight against the muted colours of the rest of the album.
‘The Middle Of The Morning’ will strike a chord with any poor sleeper/early riser struggling to get their ideas down, get their best work done before real life comes in to weigh down on them. As Harrison is also a painter (his artwork adorns the album covers), it’s easy to imagine parallels here between the creative pressures of songwriting and art.
Some comparison with Leonard Cohen seems inevitable as that confiding, in-your-ear baritone rumbles past, although Harrison’s voice is, on the whole, rather less substantial. Harrison takes his range a little further up sometimes, too, as demonstrated on ‘My Dream’s In My Pocket’, one of the album’s more uptempo songs.
Harrison’s vocals sometimes call to mind Jarvis Cocker, with their deeply personal, semi-spoken style and melodically, he can be slightly reminiscent of Neil Hannon: neither comparison being bad things to strive toward.
Artist’s website: www.stephenharrisonmusic.com
‘Trains’ – official video: