Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on A.J. Harrison, a veteran singer songwriter that has worked as a professional musician for nearly five decades. He has penned over 400 songs throughout his career, and more recently, became a published author with his well-received novel, ‘My Life He Did Touch: An Unlikely Friendship That Caught the Eyes of the World.’ In this Spotlight entry, we focus ourselves on ‘One Voice In Two-Part Harmony,’ an album Harrison released in 1999. Is the eighteen-year-old deep cut worth adding to your indie music collection? Let’s find out.
A.J. Harrison performs on a twelve string Ovation, his primary instrument aside from the occasional exploration into MIDI instruments. The latter is in full abundance on ‘One Voice In Two-Part Harmony,’ something exhibited immediately on ‘Long Distance Love Affair,’ the album’s opening tune. It’s doused in bubbly, bright synthesizers and drum-machine beats. Aside from Harrison’s vocals, which true to the album’s name, are in a two-part harmony, the song is populated primarily with what sounds like MIDI production. The intense nature of the synthesizers is becoming of Harrison, though, and makes ‘Long Distance Love Affair’ a bit infectious in its own way.
‘The Missing Piece To The Puzzle Of My Life’ suffers from some mixing issues; the two vocal sections aren’t mixed high enough, so they’re often drowned out by the reverberated synthesizer composition. That aside, however, it’s a lovable pop rock ballad with a memorable chorus. The album gets progressively stronger, however, with ‘For You And Me’ following, a track with ‘Pet Sounds’-like harmonies that showcase the range of Harrison’s vocals. They’re not traditionally exceptional, no, but they do feel genuine and authentic, which is ultimately far more important.
There are tinges of Everly Brothers influence at play, too, I’d argue, with songs like ‘The Other Man’ sounding like they’re right off one of the brotherly duo’s early records. Sonic lineage from the likes of Del Shannon, Simon and Garfunkel, and Frankie Valli is traceable in this sound as well, especially when Harrison harmonizes with himself in low and high keys for long “woah” sections like in ‘The Other Man.’ The song is snappy and catchy, a style that Harrison leans into heavily on the majority of songs on this album. Again, this draws influence straight from early rock and roll wham, bam, thank you, ma’am songwriting that doesn’t get weighed down in ostentation.
The cinematic ‘Dead End’ is likely the effort’s most complex piece, at least, instrumentally. Clocking in as the album’s longest song, ‘Dead End’ hones in on Harrison’s style of harmonies and synthesizers to create something particularly compelling. There are moments of pure beauty during the instrumental sections of the track, and that’s an interesting detour after several much shorter, more poppy endeavors. ‘When I See’ is similarly fascinating in this department, even having bouts of flute-like instrumentation that makes the song an intriguing listen.
‘I Love You’ is another bright ballad, similar to songs like ‘The Missing Piece To The Puzzle Of My Life’ and ‘For You And Me.’ For this reason, the album might have been tighter with it left on the cutting room floor; it doesn’t introduce any new thematic or instrumental themes. With that said, it’s still a enjoyable little tune. In contrast, ‘Unenhanced Relationship’ is probably the heaviest lyrical effort in the collection, delving deep into parental strife and leaving on a cautionary note pleading for listeners to avoid it in their own lives.
The naval-gazing ‘I’ve Tried’ is one of the album’s better tracks, offering one of Harrison’s most impressive vocal harmonies on the album. It’s another track that sounds a whole lot like it was written while listening to early Simon and Garfunkel. (I highly suspect the duo is an entity Harrison has derived influence from; the inspiration is just so obvious.) The album ends on one of its finest notes, too, with ‘It’s Just Not There,’ a fantastic departure from love ballads that instead favors the idea of breaking a relationship apart because the spark isn’t there.
‘One Voice In Two-Part Harmony’ is a lovely little record. Even if the synthesized soundscapes cause the record to sound a bit dated, it’s still chock-full of memorable hooks and harmonies. Harrison has lived and breathed his music and that authenticity is very noticeable, which of course, is a very high compliment.