A deceptively enjoyable, bright and airy debut from Paul Simon’s son.
Mike Diver 2010-03-23
There’s something very noble about following in one’s father’s footsteps, maintaining a family tradition through a chosen profession, safeguarding the reputation of a blood line. In music, though, successful sons and daughters aren’t as abundant in the mainstream pop world as they might be – Sean Lennon’s yet to make good on great promise, while lightly hyped Sting-offspring I Blame Coco is shaping up to be every bit as divisive as her father. As Harper Simon, son of Paul, acknowledges on this overdue debut album: “there are more wishes than stars.” Many have aimed, most have missed.
But this eponymous disc, which clocks in at a refreshingly brief 30 minutes, could nudge Harper out from his father’s shadow. Not that he makes things easy for himself: throughout there are echoes of Graceland’s author, in both Harper’s gentle alto vocals and the bright, airy arrangements of Ha Ha and nostalgic closer Berkeley Girl. But Harper’s assembling of a vastly experienced team of session musicians, combined with an ear for delightful melodies and a cute couplet, makes for a record that’s deceptively enjoyable. It does little, ultimately, but it does it very well.
The album’s first few numbers are reminiscent of Elliott Smith. An affecting lilt characterises these folk-hued acoustic tracks, and mixing from Tom Rothrock, who produced three of Smith’s albums, increases the potency of this parallel. The songs that kick up a little dust – Cactus Flower Rag, Shooting Star – are tinged with country pedal steel, courtesy of Lloyd Green. He, like harmonica player Charlie McCoy, played with Johnny Cash: confirmation of the quality of contributor Harper has been able to call upon for this release.
Paul Simon co-wrote a couple of these songs – fair enough, given the inspiration Harper provided him in the 1970s – and there are appearances from Inara George (daughter of Little Feat’s Lowell George) and in-demand violinist Petra Haden (daughter of Ornette Coleman bassist Charlie Haden). But throughout it’s Harper’s still-developing talent that shines brightest – if he builds upon this pleasant, unfussy debut, turning down the cliché just a tad, he could produce a classic of his own. Not a Bridge Over Troubled Water beater, but there’s evidence here that he could eclipse the old man’s Sounds of Silence, at least.