Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Leo Harmonay - The Blink of an Eye

Leo Harmonay - The Blink of an Eye 

Few albums come as sincere and straight-forward as this. It is certainly common in the folk music genre to find a spartan approach to both songwriting and production; in some ways, brevity is one of the form’s pre-requisites. However, simplicity alone is not artful. The simplicity must be shaped, given form, and above all else, imbued with more than a touch of the self whose hands are molding it into a statement of some sort. Leo Harmonay has the technical chops to pull off anything he wants to do in the genre; his first album, Somewhere Over the Hudson, conclusively and quickly established that. His second album, The Blink of an Eye, does something very different. It shows him to be a recording artist and writer in full command of his powers and, for whom, simplicity is a by-product of knowing exactly what he wants to say and how to put it for his listeners. This sort of certainty is a pleasure to hear from anyone. Conviction plays well. 

The conviction doesn’t gradually emerge. It’s apparent in even the introduction to his opening song, “Up to You”. Stormy guitar and accompanying drums come in and briefly swell before dispersing. The song begins in earnest with a boot stomp charged tempo while acoustic and electric guitar trade complementary melody lines. It varies little from this course and Harmonay delivers an impassioned vocal with the arrangement that plays to its musical strengths. “River Dancer” is a much more obviously structured song with a bit of idiosyncratic character, but it’s also much more of a straight down the middle folk song than the opener ever intends to be. Another idiosyncratic side of the songwriting emerges on the song “Washing Myself Clean”, but it also draws from a deep well of spiritually-inspired imagery that connects well with personal reflection. 

Harmonay dives into the blues once again on “Gone Are the Days” and its layered instrumental attack shows a great deal more obvious sophistication than on the earlier “Up to You”. Harmonay’s vocals are among his best here, particularly on the chorus. “In the Morning Light” is about as far from his rootsy influences that Harmonay goes on this album thanks to the rock and roll attitude heard in its use of electric guitar, but he doesn’t continue in that vein from here. Instead, the next song “Dirty River Town” is the clearest folk song in the collection and resists any temptation to expand its musical aims. Harmonay’s vocal here is excellent as well and his phrasing deserves most of the praise. His final two full songs are the title number and “The Joy in Our Sadness”. Both are lovely and deeply wise creations with as much musical merit as lyrical excellence.  They are also the album’s longest tracks, but there’s never a second when Harmonay sounds like he’s bitten off more than he can chew. Instead, The Blink of an Eye has a wide-reaching steadiness derived from the confident performances he gives of each song. He clearly spent a lot of time readying this material for recording and eventual release. The result is a second album that far exceeds his fine debut and hints at even greater glories to come. 

9 out of 10 stars 

David Shouse


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