Acoustic guitar records are probably more frequently released lately than at any time since Takoma records was at its peak, so it was easy to overlook last year’s debut by Montreal-based Harris Newman. The picking on Non-sequiturs is pretty solid, but he placed it at the service of pieces that rarely advanced beyond their initial ideas.
This sophomore effort shows that he has come a long way, both as a composer and an artist. For the former, consider the elegant logic with which “Cloud City” first establishes a brooding ambience, ratchets up the tension with fleeter figures, and then resolves it with a sturdy bass line redolent of John Fahey’s Takoma recordings. Here and elsewhere, Newman has figured out how to make his variations and modulations sound right rather than perfunctory.
The record also finds Newman working through the influences to find his own voice. It’s true that the kinetic “Continental Drift” sounds like it was squeezed out of Leo Kottke’s “Vaseline Machine Gun,” and “A Thousand Blankets To Keep You Warm At Night” honors Blind Willie Johnson by way of Ry Cooder. But Newman moves past homage to make his own mark on "Lake Shore Drive," where he establishes a lush yet eerie mood by layering percussionist Bruce Cawdron's metallic sighs and lap steel guitarist Sandro Perri's spacey effects over his own undulating melody. Cawdron also makes apposite contributions to the dramatic progress of “Lord & Ladies” and the cool, sauntering “Driving All Night With Only My Mind.” “Accidents With Nature And Each Other” is a splendid progression, and augurs good things to come from Newman.
By Bill Meyer