Sean Harrison- Halfway From Nashville Cosmic Cowboy Records
Most likely, Sean Harrison isn’t where he expected to be at this point in his journey, but as it turns out, Halfway From Nashville isn’t a bad place to be.
In his twenties, Harrison—son of novelist William Harrison, best known forthe futuristic, iconic, and eerily prophetic short story “Roller Ball Murder” and screenplay to the subsequent film, Rollerball—was playing music full-time in Texas. But, as he describes, “I got lost and stayed lost for a while. Booze. Drugs. I wasted a lot of time.”
Now sober, Harrison’s voice reveals his past transgressions, his songwriting fresh, charming and even hopeful.
Lines from the title track will immediately resonate, as namedropping songs often do: a hook to capture listeners’ attention. Taking advice from Haggard, Dylan, and John R. may not always be the way toward wise decisions, but it got Harrison to a “song that makes a connection, three chords and a chorus with a sense of direction” while realizing, “all the songs that I write are about schmucks and losers; I guess autobiography is my chosen form.” A fine introduction to this troubadour’s travails, elevated by the waves emanating from Jerry Roller’s pedal steel.
But the appeal doesn’t peak or end there. Whether providing perspective to reflections of small time life “at the corner of Gravel and Dirt” where “it didn’t count that I survived my wild youth, and it won’t matter when I die,” or a marriage that isn’t going necessarily as planned (“Big Decisions”)—“Sometime there’s gonna be a big decision to make, she’ll let me know when that is”—Harrison finds way into this listener’s desire for nostalgia-tinged honesty.
With a borrow from “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me, perhaps, “Go To Girl” is a fine power-pop, country blend that works better than that awkward description would suggest; ditto “Psychedelic.” An inexplicable, personal challenge (“The Last Water Tower”) give Harrison opportunity to play with rhythm, meter, rhyme, and vocabulary, a tribute to John Prine, if accidentally.
“Fingertips” is more vulnerable, a number where Harrison exposes his crusty heart without self-deprecation. A bit later, Harrison returns to type—“My folding money went with my honey, I haven’t seen them since,” Harrison moans in “Paydays,” but he knows his luck is about to change: “My woman only loves me on paydays…a big wad of dough in my left, front pocket puts a sparkle in her eye and she’s ready to rock-it.”
Great lyrics abound: “I like to think I’ll die in an interesting way, a final effort for some glory to my life…a man deserves to check-out the best he can…” Truly I could just type out the words to “Wake Up Dead” in their entirety: “But if it’s unexpected, it may just pour from my heart; and either way, I’ll say ‘voilà’ with my last breath!”
Timely this month is this line from “Worried”: “We all know a fella who always lies to reporters, then believes it because he reads it in the next day’s news.” Harrison doesn’t stop there: “The most powerful words I ever knew, ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I was wrong,’ ‘I’ll make it up to you’—I’ve never heard you say those words, so I’m not worried what you think of me, I’m worried what I think about you.” And he just keeps going: wonderful.
Recorded in a variety of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri studios and homes, without the same line-up of musicians any two songs in a row, Halfway to Nashville sounds remarkably coherent, a tribute, one imagines, to producer Benjamin Meade and mixer/master-er Paul Carabello. Michael Brinson and Carabello serve as co-producers with Harrison with all contributing a variety of instrumentation, from guitars and bass, to drums, percussion, and—in Harrison’s case—on the final, expansive, lonely number, “Breathe Out Her Name,” a rhythm loop of kalimba, afuche-casaba, conga, and Washburn parlor guitar.
Harrison loves language, and given his background—raised with a literary father on a college campus—that is hardly surprising. “Psychedelic,” “The Last Water Tower,” “Worried,” “Ode to a Goner” (the albums only co-write, with John Dufresne,) each reveals not only the appeal words hold to Harrison, but his ability to make them do his bidding. Like Guy Clark, whom I imagine Harrison has studied, he sometimes drops a line simply because it is too good to leave on the workbench. And to his credit, they almost always elevate the surprise and joy felt by his listener. This one, at least.
Sean Harrison’s Halfway From Nashville took a few listens to grab me. But once I leaned in and opened myself to its charms, I was hooked. Damn, debut albums aren’t often this compelling: something to be said, maybe, for not having regrets as Harrison says, not “even my biggest mistakes.” I imagine there’s always a song hidden within them.