“Sidestreets” is a stunning solo album by UK-based acoustic singer/songwriter John Harper, a name that may not be familiar most. Harper, I dare to say, is one of the better songwriters in the business nowadays. Not that he is the master of writing catchy pop tunes destined for the Top 40 or some iTunes list. No, no, no. That’s not what his music is all about. Instead, Harper writes some of the deepest, heart-stopping, memorable, and beautiful blues, folk and roots based music in the underground business.
He wears his heart on his sleeve, and on this deeply personal album he especially bares his soul. You can hear it in his plaintive voice, and in the powerful lyrical content, in songs like “Without a Sigh”, “Rise”, “If You Understand” and “Running Girl”.
The emotional power of these songs is just off the charts. Maybe it won’t rock your world, but that’s not really what it’s intended to do. But if you sit down and listen, really listen, to these songs and let the lyrics resonate; you can’t help but be moved.
Of course John Harper can also turn up the sonic heat if need be, and he courteously does so, slap-bang in the middle of the album, on the bluesy tracks – “Leave”, “Wada Blues”, What Blues Really Means”, and “Home”. Few albums have hooked me on a first listen as this one has.
Every song tells a poignant story and is accompanied by the perfect music for every word. Harper is a serious poet, life observer and musician who, in simple, stark and melodic terms, can convey ideas in a way that is accessible to every listener.
This is a great collection of songs recorded with very subtle, simple, warm tones and a rootsy feel. Moreover these are very honest, revealing songs that evoke and express considerable personal emotion and reflection. The more you listen to it the more you will like it.
The ‘rough n’ ready’, live-take-type, production and playing on the album, are also a perfect fit for Harper’s rustic style of singing and overall tone. This album’s visionary writings rank up there with some of our great singer-songwriters, as Harper puts his life on the edge of his lyrics and sticks it every time.
For me personally, this is more about the lyrics than the music, given that John Harper has a command of imagery and observation as keen as any prose writer working today. His ability to embellish any story with personal details and insights is evocative and captivating.
“Sidestreets” suggests that maybe we just need to slow things down and focus a bit on becoming aware and engaged in our daily doings. No doubt Harper will pull off the rare trick of attracting both critical acclaim for his new record, as well as build a genuine connection with fans of this genre of music from around the world.
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