The title of Canadian guitarist Harris Newman’s fourth solo record raises a question or two. Who or what has been decorated, and how? Since it was mostly recorded — with admirable presence — using one guitar, a couple microphones, and a minimum of overdubs, I don’t think he’s referring to the recording process itself.
Perhaps he’s drawing attention to the places where the strike of picks on strings are as present as the actual ringing of the notes, such as the swirl of reverberation that wraps around his lap steel flourishes on “Blues for Vilhelm” and the low-flying slide swoops on “I Need a Quarter to Call the Ambulance?” Or maybe he’s acknowledging the vibrant racket that radiates outward from the gnarled churn that he and drummer Eric Craven whip up on the record’s sole electric rock number, “Thee Opera House Stomp?”
The title track brings to mind a more subtle yet essential decoration. On that, and several other tracks, Newman’s composing sounds like it has been dictated by the need to limit elaboration to whatever he can work into his picking patterns in real time without tripping them up.
His website bears the legend “Neurotic fingerstyle guitar,” and it’s an apt description. It also implies the effect a single error can have – his tightly wound, accelerating figures spiral inward, as tense and reiterative as a conversation about serial numbers with an OCD-suffering record collector; one wrongly-placed note and it could all fall apart. So it’s the deliberately simple decoration and thoughtful elaboration of a piece like “The Malarial Two-Step” (not neurotic in the least) that makes it so involving and inviting.
By Bill Meyer