To truly appreciate this album, one should have a music conversation with Mr. Gold. I had many with him as a teenager back in the '70s. It was from that very deep well that I have been drawing water since I first met him at our local record store at Summit Mall. He was my musical mentor in many ways. A voice of knowledge on all things that crept around the fringe of rock music. And while he appreciated the mainstream rock of the day, he was clearly responsible for getting me into, and suggesting I buy vinyl by, Captain Beefheart, Gong, Eno, Roxy Music, Caravan, Matching Mole, Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Hatfield & The North, Robert Wyatt, and so much more.
From his ground breaking band Tin Huey to his resplendent solo material, as well as his recent musical excursions in Half Cleveland, Harvey in the Hall, Golems of the Red Planet (surf ensemble with cello tackling John Zorn's Masada catalog!), Huey's Swing Club, the HiFis and Fancy Legs, Mr. G remains the grease in the Rube Goldberg machinery in all of them. During Devo's ascent and national breakout debut album, he was a member of the Akron-based band Tin Huey featuring future Waitress leader Chris Butler ("I Know What Boys Like") and future Tom Waits horn/reeds man Ralph Carney. They went on to record the criminally neglected Contents Dislodged During Shipment for Warner Brothers in 1979. Their shows around town were always a revelation; a cornucopia of new wave, dada, and experimental rock delivered with an energy unrivaled by most of the other NE Ohio bands at the time.
But I digress... this is Harvey as only Harvey should be heard -- all of his influences in one concise package. Wearing his eccentric tastes as a badge of honor that only time bestows upon a seasoned music veteran. This is "geezer" rock in only that it takes a lifetime to be this informed of the challenges on this mortal coil. Yes, life is "messy" and the sooner one accepts it, well, the better a persons will be able to survive. From Dada rock to Americana, new wave to zany, and one downtempo VU-like reading of a Beatles song -- all of these song weave in and around Harvey's clever arrangements, lyrics, and expert musicianship.
The album opens up with the "molten" rocker meets prog syncopations of "Your Side of the Room" featuring members from his band Half Cleveland -- Harvey on vocals, guitars and keyboards, Chris Butler on vocals and lead guitars, Taylor McIntosh on sax, keys and vocals, Mike Wilkinson on bass, and Bob Ethington on drums.
That same lineup unleashes on the third track "Silly Idea" -- my pick as the single. It has a wonderful "Pinball Wizard" strummed guitar line that knocks you sideways as the song builds and builds to its tension released conclusion and a final vocal "wow" and audible gasp from Harvey. Pure Harvey prime Huey.
"Allegheny Lode" is a most excellent acoustic-driven foot stompin' Americana track featuring ex-Byrd Chris Hillman on mandolin and Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach on bottleneck as well as Deborah Smith Cahan (ChiPig) on bass and Bob Ethington on drums. Most Americana bands would be hard pressed to write such a catchy train song. If Levon Helm were still with us, I bet Harvey would have enlisted him! One of my favorite tracks on the album.
"Eidola (inadvertently for Ralph)" is pure dadaist, Harvey solo new wave action that is an homage to fallen comrade Ralph Carney and features a keyboard line and plenty of space that might have been occupied by his friend and madcap sax/reed-man had he had a chance to add his tracks. Sadly he passed away before he could. No doubt Ralph was playing along in Heaven when Harvey recorded it. As Harvey explains:
"Eidola is Greek for a specter or phantom. The ghosts of all my people that I am collecting with greater frequency. In sequence, Ralph wrote that he wanted to do an album with me. Maybe a week or so later I wrote and recorded the front end of 'Eidola' and sent it to him, not with any intention other than he and I would send our latest to each other to giggle over or be wowed by, or polite about! He wrote back 'I LOVE IT!' Maybe a week or so later... suffice it to say that back and forth constituted our last conversation. I added a very quick 'ghost' of a couple of tenors snaking through and, as I finished it up, I knew in my heart I would always associate it with Ralph, hence the title."
"The Fence" is a mid-tempo rumination on growing older and losing the loved ones around us. But at its core, it's a protest song. According to Harvey, this past year's stresss has aged all of us. "The song is about the dissonance between a gloriously happy personal life, and the socio-political chaos (read Trump and his ass hat brigade) on the 'other side' of the fence." Proceeds go to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It once again features Half Cleveland for assistance and a features a wonderful lead guitar from Chris Butler and horn orchestra from Mr. Carney.
"Every year it grows us older
The last one more than most
It's become a hard, hard world
And I breathe so many ghosts..."
But with you here in my life
A disturbing contradiction
Cuz what I feel is light
As I'm thrashing 'bout in darkness"
The simple, languid downbeat vocals, piano and drum cover of The Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" is haunting and sad, like it fell out of a David Lynch film. You will be hard pressed to forget it any time soon.
"Song for Joanne" is pure smile time a la Spike Jones meets Kevin Ayers as Harvey laments on this silly piano and vocal ballad about an infected eye, breakfast foods past and present, egg salad, and the resignation of growing old(er):
"And a hard boiled egg pressed against my eye."
"In a Very Good Place" is another acoustic guitar-forward ballad that would be right at home on a John Cale solo record. It features his Harvey in the Hall bandmates Deborah Smith Cahan on bass and Bob Ethington on drums. And speaking of Mr. Cale. Check out Harvey's reading of this John Cale chestnut "I Keep A Close Watch" from 1978. It was released as a vinyl on the Akron label Clone Records in glorious mono! (Sorry, Harvey, couldn't resist sharing this magical track.)
Harvey claims this could be his final solo album. (Doubtful.) Well, if it is, what a corker of an album. He has managed to pack all of his musical tastes and tones onto one 12-track tasty platter. What the listener gets are four tunes from Harvey in the Hall and four new songs recorded with Half Cleveland at Sta-Level Studios in Akron. Plus, one tune, "Lemon Beazley," with Tin Huey brothers -- Michael Aylward and Stuart Austin with David Stephenson, aka Mr. Ray Violet. He also recorded two new songs and a looping piece in his own Casa De Oro home studio (where much of the Harvey in the Hall tunes were recorded by Bruce Hensal). Tracks were added, and songs were remixed and/or remastered at Sta-Level.
It's Messy, Vol.1 is available on download/streaming platforms now with a CD release scheduled for September 18th, 2020.