Early adulthood is often regarded as a time for exploration and experimentation.  Through the process of learning about themselves, perhaps more importantly, people also discover who they are not.  Only in his early twenties, Zach Harmon is still developing a musical identity, which comes through on his debut album Road to Nowhere.  Nonetheless, there’s something quite charming about witnessing that growth process.  In a world that unfortunately has far too many wannabes seeking to fill specific roles, refreshingly,  Harmon is who he says he is.

Who is he?  At this moment, a kind of musical jack-of-all trades.  Harmon mixes his country with a healthy dose of pop, rock, and a splash of blues.   Listeners won’t find him name-checking Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash (even though he counts Nelson among his influences) in a bid to establish his credentials.   Harmon’s own description of his music sometimes resembling Restless Heart may be one of the more honest self-assessments, although it doesn’t entirely reflect his sound.  He is neither outlaw, traditionalist, nor completely sensitive balladeer, although these categories certainly are not exclusive of one another.  His songs grapple with issues of freedom, mortality, the loss of innocence, and impending change.  While the album offers nods to the past, several of the songs could be played alongside current radio hits.

Harmon handles the bulk of the songwriting duties on Road to Nowhere, although he isn’t adverse to turning to outside sources for a good song.  His lyrics are simple and straightforward, and while he occasionally lapses into cliches, nothing he produces is too cringe-worthy. 

In terms of sound, the album is beautifully mixed and appropriately highlights the talents of the fine musicians backing Harmon’s smooth vocals.  Alongside co-producer Terry Mashburn, Harmon makes a strong case for himself as an up-and-coming talent. 

 

The first three songs on the album are pleasant, but not particularly memorable.  The album really gets started around the groovy uptempo “For Once, Forgive Me” where a man expresses his contrition to his significant other with the delightfully backhanded apology “I’ll be doing what you’re wanting, not having any fun and everything will be fine.”  Little splashes of personality like this make all the difference in leaving a lasting impression.  Coupled with fantastic guitar work, Harmon and his backing musicians infuse the number with gusto.  They’re clearly having a blast and, in turn, the audience will, too.

While Harmon shines on the shuffle “Lonely Cowboy,” the spotlight in this number really belongs to featured musical hero  Johnny Rodriguez. The hiccup in Rodriguez’s  vocals provides a poignant contrast to Harmon’s youthful observations of a man nearing the end of his life.  Rodriguez lends the song  an additional layer of gravitas underlined by well-placed fiddle, mandolin, and steel guitar. 

The Paul Cook and Gordon Cotten-penned  “Coming Home” also deals with mortality, albeit with an adult contemporary bent.  Considerably more optimistic than “Lonely Cowboy,”  the song centers around the promises of the afterlife.  Harmon refrains from oversinging, relying instead on Cotten’s rich piano playing and his own understated delivery to carry the song’s emotional weight.

As with most twenty-somethings, Harmon’s thoughts  turn toward the transition between the naivete of youth and greater responsibilities that come with age and time.  He expresses some ambivalence toward change in “Sing to Me” while songwriter Greg Young conjures up nostalgia in “Those Stars Still Shine (Over Abilene)” but also turns a hopeful eye toward the unknown. Both pieces speak of (seemingly) simpler times, although the yearning is greater in Harmon’s piece.

Young is also responsible for composing one of the album’s best numbers.  On  the gorgeous ballad “Say Surrender“ Harmon and pianist Cotten channel a bit of Elton John while gently seeking for a mutual declaration of love.  It’s an eloquent performance that becomes all the more powerful due to Harmon’s graceful phrasing and Cotten’s playing which eventually fades into a hush that manages to convey nearly as much meaning as the lyrics.

Road to Nowhere is by no means a perfect record (if such a thing even exists) but it does speak well of Harmon’s potential.  As an introduction, it largely succeeds in exposing him as an artist with promise.  Regardless of the directions in which he chooses to take his sound in the future, this first recording hints that even better things are ahead.

Source: www.melodicsunburst.com, By Carolyn Dixon, February 20, 2010 http://melodicsunburst.wordpress.com/2010/02/20/road-to-nowhere-zach-harmon/#respond

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