If an author came up with a protagonist that suffered the kind of Job-esque life afflictions experienced by singer/songwriter Jason Hawk Harris, critics would consider it excessive even for a fictional character. The Houston native/L.A. resident grew up listening to his grandfather's classic country records, became enamored with punk, alternative rock and Queen as a teenager and ultimately was wait-listed for UCLA's classical composition master's program. He eventually lent his skills to the Show Ponies, a SoCal indie folk rock outfit, but he began writing his own songs, crafted his debut EP, 2017's "Formaldehyde, Tobacco and Tulips," and embarked on his solo career.
As he was writing material for "Love & the Dark," his debut full length, Harris's life crumbled; his mother died from years of alcohol abuse, his father declared bankruptcy, and his sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis just before the premature birth of her son with cerebral palsy. Harris dealt with these travails by excessive self-medication, which led to addiction issues and rehab solutions, but through it all, songwriting became Harris' most effective therapeutic tool.
Harris' deeply felt pain and redemptive passion is evident with every line sung and every chord struck on "Love & the Dark," from the opening Steve Earle-meets-Joe Ely roots rock waltz of "The Smoke and the Stars" to the Lyle Lovett-tinged balladry of "Grandfather," the album's powerful closer. In between, there's the Rodney Crowell shimmer of "Phantom Limb," the punkabilly scorch of the fear-of-God anthem "I'm Afraid," the twangy Foster & Lloyd blast of "Red Room Blues," and the propulsive honky tonk rock of "Confused," where Harris asks the never-asked love song question, "Why can't I be in love and be confused?" And Harris doesn't shy away from his demons, addressing them head on with the jaunty "Cussing at the Light" and "Giving In," their irresistible melodies and lyrics at odds with the gravity of their underlying message.
"Love & the Dark" is an astonishing and potent introduction to Jason Hawk Harris, a young artist with two or three lifetimes already notched on his well-worn belt.