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Joseph E Harrison - Album Review: Therapy For A Cynic

12 Jul 2023 // A review by OLDER

Joseph E Harrison, originally from Sheffield in the North of England, came to Aotearoa in the late nineties and has for the best part of forty years been performing and song-writing on both sides of the world.

Now resident in Wellington, his new album Therapy For A Cynic released on all major platforms on July 5th is, to quote his own concise words, “a collection of songs spanning the last twenty-five years, reimagined and reworked through years of studio time and live performance.” It's a solo album by Joseph, though he performs many of the songs live as the lead singer of the band Tower Of Flints.

Before listening to a single note I was intrigued by the concept of the album as it can be challenging to reimagine songs you have known so intimately for so long. Added to this Joseph has written, performed and produced the album entirely by himself in his home studio. This is a heck of a task and not for the faint-hearted. A shade over 45 minutes later I’m deeply impressed and am reaching for the replay button.

The cover photo for the album sums up not only the reflective mood of the album but where it’s best listened too – on a favourite comfortable sofa, laying back under soft lighting, late at night and with a fine single malt in hand (the whisky isn’t in the album cover shot – I’m just projecting that!). That’s not to say there are no upbeat songs here because there are plenty – rather it’s an album that demands to be listened to and reflected upon deeply – I might not do that driving!

The opening track Moon serves to set the scene as though the lights have fallen on a grand theatrical production and those late to their seats are on their last call before the show really gets going. This is a haunting track that would be at home on a Netflix Nordic noir.

Explain follows with a very different vibe – a playful piano kicks this number off. Before long layers of guitars and vocals create a beautiful bed of sound that picks you up and takes you downstream. We also hear Joseph shift his vocal register up and a delivery with perfect control and dynamics. The music is light but the lyrics are so very dark “Am I not the one, Who hurts you 'til you’re numb?

Baby, You Lied, musically begins light hearted with strings and jangling guitars. But I’ve read all the lyrics for this album and they are far from light hearted ‘I thought we had a deal, But he still has his wife ... But baby, you lied.’ The light heartedness is smashed aside by a wall of musical venom that is perfectly produced and mixed. This is what Joseph does so well – he puts you in one musical emotional space then shifts you to another, almost without warning. Yet the lyrics were there cautioning from the outset …

This is one man’s life recorded without masking. The writing, the lyrics, the vocal delivery, the musicianship and the production of this album are second to none. Joseph takes you on a journey into many dark corners, ones you believe are deeply personal to him, but now they are shared will find many ears and hearts that can relate to them entirely. The vocals in particular really leap out and draw you in – I’m a big fan of singers who don’t mask their natural accents and Joseph’s is divine, full bodied and cuts beautifully through all the mixes.

Every song on this album belongs. Every note, beat and lyric. Five Thousand Days (track 8) literally brought a tear to my eye. It’s about leaving a relationship from the father’s perspective – it suggests the mother of the children is drinking far too much. “Hell, take the house The dog, the TV and the money. I’ll just keep this old guitar. And two small things that call you Mummy.“ The lyrics are brutally honest and delivered with such detachment from the awfulness of the situation, yet there is the love and protection for the children and music, not the material trappings of life. “Honey, which bottle are you sleeping in tonight? ... Honey, here’s to us. I’m leaving you tonight.” If you only listen to one song on this album – make it this one.

The last song The Rest Of My Days (it is technically the last as the very final track is an acoustic version of an earlier song Blameless) is just incredible. It is literally about the whole album and the process of revisiting 25 years of works that have marked a life lived. " In this wonderful room, Revisiting tunes from twenty years ago" … “When they’re done will I be free to be me? No longer enslaved? Will they let me begin the rest of my days.”

It is hard (in a good way) to nail the style of this album. As you might expect after drawing on many years of influence an artist of Joseph’s calibre has managed to define his own sound. Joseph self-labels this a ‘Rock’ album, but it is so much more with beautiful vocal harmonies, perfectly written piano accompaniments, strings and twists and turns that are far more progressive than simple Rock. Equally it’s not ‘Progressive Rock’ per se. I’m reluctant to compare Joseph to other artists because he really has nailed his own sound but if influences or traces are present I would suggest The Beatles, Roxy Music, early Bowie and Fish’s solo work post Marillion. I even heard echoes of Killing Joke on Need To Know. But as soon as you have read that forget it – this is uniquely and brilliantly Joseph E Harrison.

Therapy For A Cynic may well be the title of the album but you do not need to be a cynic to relate to the songs on here. Anyone who has had the life experiences that Joseph has written about can share his cathartic journey. This is the beauty of art inspired from a place of honesty and openness.

Quite simply a brilliant album. 25 years condensed into 45 minutes and, I am very glad to say, an album of superb songs now set free to be appreciated and valued far and wide.

 

About Joseph E Harrison

Hailing from Sheffield in the North of England, and a resident of NZ since the late nineties, the music of Joseph E Harrison reflects his experience of almost forty years as a performer and songwriter, on both sides of the world.

His most recent release, Therapy For A Cynic, is a collection of songs spanning the last twenty-five years, reimagined and reworked through years of studio time and live performance.

Incorporating loud guitars, feedback, multi-layered vocal harmonies, orchestral strains and dark, ambiguous lyrics, Therapy For A Cynic delves into questions of love, regret, betrayal, obsession and

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Joseph E Harrison

Releases

Therapy For A Cynic
Year: 2023
Type: Album

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