The image of an astronaut on a horse has about become synonymous with John Harrison, the songwriting force behind Chapel Hill’s band North Elementary and now also solo project Jphono1. It’s an image that really makes no sense, but then makes total sense when you get to know John Harrison as a songwriter. An astronaut loves space and has great confidence to explore unknown territory using technology and physics to guide. Cowboys are grounded, earthy, and gritty. Both revel in the exploration of something novel and their freedom to keep on for that next discovery, both like Harrison’s songwriting, journeying you to the far-reaches while keeping you firmly grounded in familiar ease.
This ain’t John Harrison’s first rodeo/space shuttle launch. He’s orbited a few times now, playing since the early 90’s, touring around the country and locally with his bands The Comas and currently with North Elementary. He has played with dozens of musicians, and is firmly established in the area as an experienced and gifted collaborator. Sometimes though, the cowboy-astronaut needs a more solitary journey.
Jphono1’s solo release “Living is Easy” is such a trip, a cohesive album of nine songs pulling together modern and traditional musical sounds of the world, integrating them together making something out of place feel familiar. The songs are anchored by acoustic guitar melodies with richly layered vocals and harmonies, and solid, relaxed rhythms. The magic is in the warbling organs, birds chirping, the layered wavers and bends, clocks ticking. A banjo porch picnic seamlessly morphs into an Indian tala. The pop melodies shift minor with a discordant and melancholic need to move on, but settle back into a gentle comfortable handhold. The cowboy’s banjo, guitar and harmonica are right at home alongside astronaut’s spacey techno-programmed beats, synthesized strings, and organs- all blending brilliantly.
Next time you see a man on a horse, naturally you will wonder why he’s not wearing an astronaut suit.
-Written by Mimi McLaughlin