Jason Hawk Harris, "Love & the Dark" (Bloodshot)
A single guitar solo is by itself worth the price of admission to Jason Hawk Harris' world.
The climactic moment on the Houston native's full-length debut album comes midway through the nine-song set. It's a carefully constructed 24-bar coda to "Phantom Limb," a wrenching song about the death of Harris' mother, and the emotions channeled through his six-string are sad, angry, beautiful and enough to make you cry.
That's not all.
"Love & the Dark" explores self-destruction, the great unknown and matters of the heart with bracing honesty and humor. Harris' entertaining array of musical stylings includes a punk gospel stomper ("I'm Afraid"), a twangy toe-tapper ("Cussing at the Light") and an arena-ready power ballad ("The Smoke and the Stars"). Harris' training in classical composition shows in arrangements that benefit from a range of dynamics and surprising tempo shifts, along with lots of terrific playing and singing by the supporting cast. Harris himself sounds a lot like Jason Isbell, but that quickly becomes immaterial because his material's so good.
For example, take album closer "Grandfather," another reflection on the dearly departed. It's musically inventive — cue the xylophone — with death undone in the powerful final two verses. Can't beat that for a happy ending.