CD Review of Watching the Sky by Jesse Harris
Jesse Harris: Watching the Sky
Recommended if you like
James Taylor, Paul Simon, John Mayer
Label
Downtown
Jesse Harris:
Watching the Sky

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

W
ith eight albums in nearly as many years, Jesse Harris has arguably expanded his reputation well beyond the singular distinction of penning "Don’t Know Why" for Nora Jones’ debut disc, Come Away with Me. A Grammy’s great, of course, but after penning such a wide array of winsome melodies, Harris is long overdue for the kind of recognition that would boost him beyond the distinction of being labeled a mere one-hit songwriting wonder. Long ago he made his mark in New York’s writing circles, first as half of a duo called Once Blue – which was signed to EMI in the mid ‘90s – and later as part of the Ferdinandos, a Manhattan musical collective that established an ongoing residency at the Living Room club in the city’s East Village.

Unfortunately, despite the mega success of the Jones single and the subsequent major label flirtations which followed, Harris’ own efforts have gone largely unnoticed. Hopefully, though, that unjustified slight will be corrected with this new disc, an ample 15-song set that purveys the same mellow sentiments and easy, meandering melodies that have become his stock in trade. There’s nothing here that will shake the foundations or alter the template of modern music, but there’s no reason why these radio-ready songs can’t boost his profile well beyond where it is now. True to its title, the album maintains an upward gaze; all the tracks have a sunny disposition, a carefree lilt and an overall pace that alternates between a shuffle and a sway. Like James Taylor, an artist with whom Harris seems to have a deep musical connection, he allows his melodies to move at a leisurely pace, and on songs such as "On a Day," "Watching the Sky," "While We Slept" and "Everybody Knows," that amiable attitude seems positively pervasive. Subtlety may be his strong suit, but the beauty that’s bound up in "Fool’s Paradise," "Gimmer" and "Looking Back" lingers long after their final notes fade away. Even the album’s sole instrumental – the winsome, wistful "It Will Stay with Us" – makes an immediate impression.

If anything, Harris may be too affable for his own good. These days, it’s all but impossible to make a mark in the music biz without the benefit of flash, glamour, mimicry or gimmickry, and Harris is in effect relying only on his talent and charms. Unaffected and unassuming, Watching the Sky is the kind of album that almost seems as if it’s heaven-sent.

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