It has been six year’s since Jack Harris won the prestigious New Folk songwriting competition at The Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. The list of previous winners includes starry names such as Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Gillian Welch and Devon Sproule, so it seems a pity that it’s taken the young Welsh songwriter such a long time to record and release his new album, The Flame and the Pelican. Almost six years as it happens.
Still, it was worth the wait. A remarkably well-crafted and mature record for a songwriter still in his mid 20s, the 12 original songs showcase Harris’s immense talents as a storyteller reminiscent, in so many ways, of a young Dick Gaughan.
Narrative driven with a strong female cast, Harris weaves his way gently through songs that touch on the simple and the sublime. The opening track Rehearsal – along with the title of the album – is an homage to the late, great American poet Elizabeth Bishop. As a lyricist of great descriptive precision and a flair for revealing observation, it’s not difficult to see why Harris might admire the highly crafted works of Bishop.
In his hands simple stories are transformed into epic tales of myth and mystery: in Red Weather one man’s seemingly mundane ride to work takes a turn into the fantastical. In Potatoes’ Flower a humble tuber becomes a metaphor for the human condition. The album closes with the heart-stopping Donegal, a song that evokes the intense sadness of the traditional Irish ballad of loss and leaving, only this time the road leads back home.
The arrangements on The Flame and the Pelican are simple, sparse and intimate. Accompanied by a small band of friends and family, Harris’s voice is front and centre; breathy, soulful, strong and clear. His keen ear for a melody and economical but expressive finger picking is the perfect structural counterpoint to the wandering poetry of his lyrics. It really is a fine follow-up to 2006’s Broken Yellow made possible by public donation via the internet. It can be said about so many young and talented musicians who graft hard to get their work out there, but Harris deserves a much wider audience. Of its type this is as fine a collection of songs as will be heard all year.
The Flame And The Pelican is released 13th February, 2012