Harris Newman has previously cut his musical teeth with Montreal’s miserablist folk minstrels Sackville, part of the ever-burgeoning Constellation Records family. Now on Non-Sequiturs, Newman goes it alone for the first time, taking his place alongside the current crop of six- and twelve-string outlaws busy resurrecting the holy trinity of the mythical Takoma label – John Fahey, Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho.
This great influx of modern day troubadours, happily waving the standard of neu-Americana, means that merely name-checking the right influences and playing along is no longer enough to guarantee a sure-fire hit. Unlike his fellow revivalists, Steffen Basho-Junghans and Jack Rose of Pelt, Newman fails to build upon the traditional forms which are his foundation stone and seems unable to remake and re-invigorate them with his own signature. To put it more bluntly, it doesn’t sound like he has the range to keep it interesting.
Fellow Montreal-area musician Bruce Cawdron lends occasional accompaniment on percussion and lapsteel, but the introduction of these seem to be a mere gesture at best and, at worst, an attempt to seal over the cracks. All too often Newman seeks the safe harbor of the same old familiar picking patterns, coming across like an inferior rendition of Jim O’Rourke’s Bad Timing, which lack the raw emotion inherent in Fahey’s work and instead serve to highlight his lack of chops. During those few moments when things do fall into place, such as on “God Is In the Details” and “Forest For The Trees,” where Newman allows more space to breathe into the guts of his compositions, he finally breaks free of the grip of those masters to which he is evidently so in thrall, and begins to find his own voice.
By Spencer Grady