Prime Cuts: The Only Thing Bluer than Hs Eyes, Catalog Dreams, Harms Way
To paraphrase the titular of one of her own songs, Joni Harms is more than your eyes can see. Though she may sing about her weakness for cowboys or about her dog named Buddy or about having faith in God, but Harms is one tough cookie to crack. In the vicious world of the music industry, even veterans who have been known to have backbones, have had been forced from time to time by money grabbing executives to pay obeisance to the latest trending musical polytechnics. But not Joni Harms. When she took on the manta of "Let's Put Western Back into Country" a decade ago, she stands by it through thick and thin. And over the last couple of decades she has never wavered from her brand of wholesome western music. Music that flourishes with lots of reference to everything that is western; music that recalls the Western swing of Bob Willis; music that doesn't have a gunrack or honky tonk in it. As a result, she has garnered for herself a legion of faith who is just as faithful as she is to her own mantra; as a result, she can continue to release album after album without the pressure of chart success or radio singles.
"From Oregon to Ireland" is Harms first live recording that she has record, and as the titular specifies, it was recorded during her gig in Ireland. On this two disc, 22 song long concert, Harms conspicuously worked through all her albums starting with 1990's "Hometown Girl" to last year's "Harm's Way." Diplomacy seems to have the calling cards as each of her six albums released during this time frame are quite judiciously represented here. Harms, unlike some of her lesser peers, doesn't just rehearse through her catalog song after song stodgily. Rather, she does prefaces some of her entries with personal anecdotes that are illuminating. Her telling, for instance, of how she first was signed to Capitol Nashville was pure fascination. The way she twirls the words of "Weakness for Cowboys" around for her Irish audience is just a whole ball of fun. And her candidness of how she wrote the album's only new song the title cut "From Oregon to Ireland," creates a whole personal appreciation of who Harms is as a person.
Yet, in listening to these 22 favorite songs of Harms, one is once again reminded of two traits why Harms has been such a charmer all these years. First, Harms never writes in the abstract. Unlike many syrupy sweet Christmas carols filled with sugar-coated sentimentality, Harms in "Joseph Built the Cradle" literally helps brings us into Joseph's (the earthly father of Jesus) carpentry where we can feel the sawdust brushing pass our brows as Joseph was building something much bigger than he could ever anticipate. And even if you are not a pet lover, listening to Harms sing about her dog in "Buddy and Me" makes you appreciate the depths of how an animal can make you feel that we sometimes overlook. Those of us who have had live through abject poverty will find ourselves nodding our heads when we hear "Catalog Dreams."
Second, Harms never let a song come out of her mouth, unless the song has a superb sing along melody. Many singer-songwriters are so stymied in the murkiness of their own emotions that they write songs merely as therapy for themselves. As a result, to the ears of others who may not share their gloom, the song is just a seamless tuneless flow of words and notes. This is not so with Harms. She has a way of getting our toes tapping with the fun moving "Two Steppin' Texas Blues," then she'll get us doing a Vince Gill-ersatz harmony with her on the ultra catchy "The Only Thing Bluer Than the Eyes." And when it comes to a touching personal narrative piece like "Harms Way," she'll get us glued to her every syllable.
Therefore, if you want country music that is unadulterated by the current mess of poorly constructed 70s rock, Auto-voicing and EDM, Harms sings with an addictive country purity and buoyancy that is hard to resist.
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