Step Right Up: Dave Harding
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
“Most of the songs on this record are about travelling. I feel most at ease when watching the world pass by outside my window, feeling the rumble of the road beneath me”. Dave Harding on making his new album, ‘You Came Through’.
Dave Harding’s second solo album ‘You Came Through’ is the follow-up to the wonderful debut ‘Across The Road’ from 2007. You may already know Mr. Dave Harding from his integral role in Portland Oregon’s finest Richmond Fontaine. Over the past two decades, frontman Willy Vlautin’s songwriting prowess combined with the unrivalled, core musicianship of Harding (bass), Oldham (drums) and Eccles (guitar), have created a unique blend of country, folk and rock grandeur. Harding’s bass has always been an integral part to Richmond Fontaine’s aesthetics in capturing the feel of a song distilled through time. ‘You Came Through’ was recorded in the Fall of 2011, during the time when Richmond Fontaine finished their latest masterpiece, ‘The High Country’ and were beginning rehearsals for the subsequent tour. ‘The High Country’, one of the band’s best albums, is a song-novel: a fully realized novel-sized story set to music. Dave Harding recorded ‘You Came Through’ with producer Mike Coykendall (M. Ward, She and Him among many others) in Portland’s Blue Room Studios. Mike Coykendall has produced Richmond Fontaine’s classic albums ‘Post To Wire’ and ‘The Fitzgerald’ in addition to his role as multi-instrumentalist in the ‘You Came Through’ sessions. Regular Richmond Fontaine members (Sean Oldham, Dan Eccles, Paul Brainard) and stalwart musicians from the Portland music scene (Mike Coykendall, Ralph Huntley, Scott Hampton) provided the sonic backdrop to the great songs found on ‘You Came Through’.
The album opener ‘Wayfarin’ Blues’ is a delightful uptempo folk blues opus guided by Oldham’s rock ‘n’ roll drum beat. Harding sings ‘Here’s to the way we feel/This is the way we heal/Tearing down some dusty road/Blood in our eyes and our hearts full of gold’ on the song’s chorus. ‘Wayfarin’ Stranger’ is the album’s prologue. Furthermore, the essence of music making is distilled in Harding’s lyrics. The ‘feel’ of the songs and their ultimately healing power fills the listener’s heart with gold. The musicianship is awe-inspiring throughout. Brainard’s pedal steel, Eccles’ lap-steel and guitar licks, Oldham’s drumming, Huntley’s piano accompaniment to Harding’s heartfelt vocals is simply sublime. ‘Own Kind Of Love’ is a beautiful duet with Michael Jodell that could be taken straight from Richmond Fontaine’s ‘Post To Wire’. The blissful ‘Judgement Day’ packs a punch with a killer funk guitar line.
‘Grasshopper Blues’ is a slow tempo J.J Cale-esque blues that hits you straight to the core. In fact, the song is reminiscent of ‘Automatic For The People’ era R.E.M such is its sheer power. Eccles’ atmospheric lap steel soars beneath Harding’s strummed acoustic guitar. Harding sings on the opening verse ‘I’m crawling the horizon/Got scrambling on my mind’ with a majestic vocal delivery. ‘Goin’ to find me a grasshopper/Goin’ to ride him to the stars’ are the lyrics of the chorus. An odyssey of someone lost, drifting along the horizon in search of direction is painted by Harding. The closing refrain of ‘A mighty strange time’ recalls the world of David Lynch and the lyric phrasing could be that of Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner. Sensational. ‘Scholls Ferry’ is a piano led instrumental performed by Ralph Huntley. Oldham’s tender drums and Eccles’ Beatles-esque lap steel creates a feeling of nostalgia filled with hope. The piece is reminiscent of the great composer Jon Brion’s otherworldly dreamy creations.
My highlight is the album’s closer ‘Shores Of Cornwall’. Interestingly Mike Coykendall is on lead vocals and nailed it on the second take! The song is a true masterpiece and is ‘You Came Through’s centerpiece. Harding wrote ‘Shores of Cornwall’ about his grandfather who left Cornwall and sailed to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when he was a young boy. The opening verse recalls Richard Manuel’s heart wrenching ‘Tears Of Rage’. Coykendall’s vocals exudes sheer raw emotion over Huntley’s Band-esque gospel piano; ‘For all the tears I cried/For all the times I’d write to myself in vein’. The chorus is uplifting and joyous shades of Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’ can be heard. Coykendall sings ‘And every time I reach the bottom/There’s something there that holds me through/Feeling ravished and forgotten/When the wind picks up and I can see/The shore of Cornwall coming into view’ on the song’s chorus. This is the climax of ‘You Came Through’ and the outro of glorious backing harmonies and clarinet brings the musical voyage to a fitting close.
‘You Came Through’ is available now from Dave Harding’s bandcamp site: http://daveharding.bandcamp.com