Album Review

Harley Kimbro Lewis – s/t: Album Review

Acoustic Americana at its finest on the self-titled debut album from Harley Kimbro Lewis!

Release Date:  22nd February 2022

Label: HKL

Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download and Streaming

With each member a distinguished musician in his own right, Harley Kimbro Lewis are testament to the old adage that a well-assembled team can sometimes be more effective than the sum of its parts.  Let me explain.

Harley Kimbro Lewis are: Welsh guitar wizard Martin Harley, Knoxville, TN double-bassist extraordinaire Daniel Kimbro and Nashville singer-songwriter of great repute Sam Lewis.  They first came together as a trio in Nashville back in 2011 and, thankfully, they’ve finally got around to making an album – and WHAT an album it is! 

Each of the members has a highly impressive CV, as we’re about to see.

Cardiff-born Harley is a veteran of eight albums, as a solo artist, as part of a duo with Daniel or as the frontman of his own band – and he’s been rated (by Total Guitar Magazine and others) as one of the world’s top acoustic guitarists.  He’s toured extensively, with an itinerary that has included his 2011 ‘Blues Gone Green’ bicycle tour of the UK and is recognized in the Guinness Book Of Records (no less…) for his participation in a performance at an altitude of 21,000 feet on Kala Patthar in the Nepal Himalayas – officially the highest gig ever!  Daniel Kimbro is a Grammy-nominated double-bassist whose resumé includes appearances with John Hiatt, James Taylor, Alison Krauss, Sir Aly Bain and many, many others.  His ‘musical telepathy’ has been compared to that deployed by the one and only Danny Thompson in his accompaniment to the late John Martyn.  Sam Lewis has collaborated with the likes of Leon Russell and Chris Stapleton (who dubbed Sam “A modern-day Townes Van Zandt) and has a string of solo albums to his name – most recently 2020’s Solo

Sam Lewis encapsulated the magic of the collaboration as follows: “This really is a special batch of songs we believe couldn’t have been penned and recorded independently – they required all three of us to create them together.  We chose to shelve any kind of preciousness or ego and simply wrote what made us smile or even laugh at times.  If any of us expressed any type of competition it was all performance based in hopes of impressing and encouraging each other to reach further and dig a little deeper.  We truly believe anyone who listens with their heart and soul can feel the sincerity of our intentions.”

These guys, then, are something special, and it’s not stretching a point to refer to the Harley Kimbro Lewis collaboration as an ‘Acoustic-Americana Supergroup.’  And, happily, Harley Kimbro Lewis is a combination that takes the special talents of each member and mixes them into something very special indeed.  Make no mistake, for their debut album, Harley Kimbro Lewis have produced some exceptional music.  Just three instruments for most of the tunes, plus a touch of the lightest of light percussion and three highly distinctive voices is basically what’s on offer.  The lyrics are clear and humorous, the songs are short and straight-to-the-point and the musicianship is impeccable.  With songs that take their cue from the influences of the American south – and particularly from Appalachia and Nashville (although I also detect a Texan swing influence in some of the songs and there are liberal scatterings of Delta blues all over the place) the album has been described as “Acoustic Americana at its very best” and that’s a description that just about nails it for me.

The enjoyment that the guys had in writing and performing these songs comes over loudly and clearly in every beat, note and lyric.  As Martin said: “This collaboration is both the rope and the safety net.  Working with Sam and Daniel is based on mutual trust.  The album never really had a mould into which it needed to fit, therefore it’s been a safe home for new and exciting ideas.  If the commercial success of an album directly related to the fun it was to make, we’d all be retiring to the Caribbean next year!”

It’s clear, right from the outset, that Harley Kimbro Lewis is going to be fun.  A “1-2-3-4” count-in announces opening track Grey Man, and we’re off!  This is wonderfully relaxing music – a lazy rag with great harmonies, some stunning slide guitar parts and Daniel’s bass really has to be heard to be believed.  And the realization dawns that, sometimes, three acoustic instruments and a great vocal is all it takes to transform your day!

I’ve already mentioned that Harley Kimbro Lewis are blessed with three excellent, yet highly distinct vocalists.  The bulk of the vocals on the album are handled by Sam, whose default style I’d describe as “laid back and distinctly western.”  Bassist Dan favours a more intimate and, somehow, reassuring vocal style, whilst Martin, who takes the vocal lead on just one track, goes for a full-throated approach.  The album has already been preceded by the release of three singles, and it’s Sam that takes the lead on Neighbors, the first of these.  It’s a country-flavoured tune with some gentle guitar from Martin, a rock-solid bassline from Daniel and some exquisite vocal harmonies in the chorus – but it’s Sam’s lyrics that really catch the ear – with lines like “Well I used to have good neighbors/ That I liked a lot/ They mowed their grass just a little too fast/ But they always had great pot” and “I got neighbors who don’t realise/ they got neighbors who like to criticise,” he captures sentiments that will familiar to just about anyone.

Daniel assumes vocal responsibility for Creepin’ Charlie, a slice of tongue-in-cheek western swing that takes a swipe at a desirable lady who doesn’t want to be pinned down to a single partner before the mic is handed over to Martin for Cowboys In Hawaii, the second of the singles to be taken from the album.  It’s a 1930’s-style ballad that, despite the splatterings of Hollywood strings, manages to avoid getting unintentionally schmaltzy – and the slide passages from Martin’s dobro are simply sublime.

Next up comes Good Guy, a tasty blues-laden rag with a good-time tune that drips with electric slide guitar and some more of Daniel’s excellent bass.  And it’s Daniel who reassumes the vocals for the folky Rosary – a song that could have come straight from the Jackson Browne/JD Southern songwriting stable.  In complete contrast, Who’s Hungry is swampy, bluesy and almost funky and sounds remarkably like Creedence would if they went Unplugged.

The boredom and sparsity of Appalachian homelife is laid bare in the comical I Gotta Chair – to a tune that recalls the traditional Jimmy Crack Corn!  It’s fun, and, once more, the musicianship is peerless, as Martin’s dobro slips and slides all over the place and Daniel’s bass rumbles and surges.  Daniel laments his reluctance to travel to Tokyo and sample the delights that the Japanese Capital has to offer – unless his partner can be persuaded to accompany him – in the delightful Tokyo, an enjoyable country blues number, and wise advice is dispensed in Whiskey Decisions, a wistful country waltz tune that warns that “Whiskey decisions and smokin’ in bed/ Come back to haunt you in this world or the next.” Strummed acoustic guitar and some beautifully light electric provide the backing, and Martin excels once again when solo time comes around.

What To Do is another excellent bluesy rag, before things are brought to a close with the jaunty Man Get Ahold of Yourself, the album’s third single cut.  To a fast and joyous tune that closely resembles the frequently co-opted Skip To My Lou, My Darling Daniel delivers lyrics that are crammed with great advice that, if followed, could allow the listener to avoid getting dumped, arrested, beaten up, or even worse.  It’s an invigorating ending to an invigorating album – one which I, for one, have thoroughly enjoyed and which I have no hesitation in wholly recommending.

If these words have whetted your appetite for fine acoustic Americana, you may be interested to know that Harley Kimbro Lewis will be touring the UK during March 2022.  The tour kicks off on Sunday 6th March at The Court Theatre, Tring, Hertfordshire, and runs until Sunday 27th March when the guys play their final show of the tour at The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth.  Full details of the itinerary are available here.

Watch the Official video to Neighbors – one of the album’s three singles – here:

Harley Kimbro Lewis Online: Website/ Facebook/ Instagram/ YouTube

Twitter accounts for the individual members: Martin Harley/ Daniel Kimbro/ Sam Lewis

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