Native Harrow – Old Kind Of Magic : Album Review

Swirling and sophisticated homage to the 60s/70s, brushed up by the US ex-pat duo and given an anglo filter that makes the retro just right.

Release date: 28th October 2022

Label: Loose

Format: CD / vinyl / digital

native harrow

If your idea of a good time is a prolonged soak in a woozy bucolia, bathing in shimmery psych-folk of a pastoral bent, step right up, for that is what we have right here. Native Harrow, a duo transplanted from Pennylvania to Pevensey, have form, with this being a 5th long player, if the 2nd over here in Blighty. (And, OK, it may not be Pevensey, but it is certainly Sussex, the opportunity for scansion being otherwise too good to miss.) Stephen Harms and Devin Tuel, she writing the bulk of the material, her partner adding additional nuances, and much the surrounding instrumentation, together providing further evidence of the worth of getting it together in the country. Additional heft comes from old mucker, Alex Hall, reprising his drum seat a 3rd time around, with cameos also from Joe Harvey-Whyte, UK premier pedal steel man de nos jours, and Georgia Leach (Seasick Steve) on violin.

Song For Joan sets the table for what is in store, as layers of mellotronic woodwind and piano make for an entrance, with the caws of (Brighton) seagulls, over an ebbing tide, acting as a prologue, for added atmosphere. With a bass throbbing autonomously beneath, Tuel’s vocal is a clear yet smoky clarion, double tracking herself for harmonies. A noble start, the warmth is palpable, the song outlining their MO: “Home is in my mind, not aligned with where I go”, the ambience of a Netflix road movie. Old Kind Of Magic follows, with a distinct hint, in the phrasing more than the tonality, of another Joan, or, should I say, Joni. Hall weighs in with some solid percussion, electric piano the most prominent feature, along with some swathes of B3. Almost Floydy guitar and pedal steel beckon in Heart Of Love, a studied paean to lasting love, sounding initially a lament, but actually more a lullaby of relief, and it is lovely.   

I Was Told is another song that looks back over a life: “I was told we’re a long way from growing old; just one of the lies we’ve been told’. No bitterness or regret, a resigned acceptance in an upbeat blues, if you can have such a thing. The electric piano and the bass guitar spar to hold the attention over Hall’s emphatic percussion, all losing out to Tuel’s soaring vocal. Tuel slips from acoustic guitar to one plugged in for Used To Be Free. Harms here, unusually, is just playing the one instrument, bass, while Hall doubles up on piano. Native Harrow have caused many listeners pass comment to their apparent Laurel Canyon style and references, and I get that, but it is the earlier Canyon resident, Carole King, I hear more than the extended Crosby and Nash cabals, with this song fetching up quite a tapestry, SWIDT, of associations. This is then accelerated into the wondrous revivalist organ of As It Goes, meshed with psychedelic guitars; is the earth beginning to move under my feet? Harms then goes the full Manzarek and the chorus could almost be a female Morrison. A marvellous construct, the build gets higher and higher, with Leach sawing away majestically across a myriad of multitracking. 

Magic Eye is another throwback to groovier times, mellotrons swirling, guitars twanging and drums a’thumping. Any video of this one should have swirly dream sequence processing. An oud solo adds some freakpower exoticism and I am totally entranced. “Feeling high, feeling low, wanna go where it is you know”… You betcha, baby!! Needing a lie down after that, I Remember pays some token respect to that necessity, a steel-drenched number that now evokes the spirit of Grace Slick, by way of Susannah Hoffs, especially as Tuel double tracks her voice, the swooping arrangement evoking the Byrds, just at the time McGuinn went weird on us, praise be. The mood changes for the chamber gospel of Long Long Road, Leach here a full string quartet, a song that has a feel of transition, that matches the lyrical theme, and those strings are magnificent. Finale, I Remember, closes the sense of ceremony, with a (slightly) simpler arrangement and a searching melody, with the hopeful lyric signposting the eventuality of a final, peaceful resolution: “When you’ve lost your way to reason, stranded in the cold if you look up to the night sky, I see it too”. Me, too.

This is a somewhat special record.It may be that many radars are set too high to let it in. Turn down those dials, give it headspace and immerse yourself. It’ll be worth it.

Talking of, here is a vid for Magic Eye, and they aren’t far off expectation one bit!

Back to locations, and perhaps giving a clue to where in the “rolling hills of Sussex” the duo are based, following the launchday release in London, Tuel and Harms make an instore appearance, 29/10/22, in Lewes’s fab Union Music Store, 2pm in my old home town.

Native Harrow online: website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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