Mark Harrison – The Panoramic View
15 songs 57 minutes
Following on from 2016’s well-received Turpentine, The Panoramic View is British singer/guitarist/songwriter Mark Harrison’s sixth album and probably his best yet. In a collection of 15 original songs, played on a variety of acoustic instruments, recorded with crystalline clarity by Tim Bazell of Heart of Gold Studios in London, Harrison cheerfully mixes folk, blues and gospel to create an album that is uplifting, thought-provoking, entertaining and distinctly different.
In addition to singing in his unaffected yet curiously affecting voice, Harrison fingerpicks National and 12-string guitars masterfully in a Piedmont style, adroitly picking up a slide on “Ain’t No Justice”. Each song has a different line-up of musicians, from the solo ragtime instrumental “Pool Meadow Strut” (which is not, apparently, named after some rural paradise but the main bus station in the English city of Coventry) to a full band line-up. Harrison’s regular band of Charles Benfield (double bass) and Ben Welburn (drums and percussion) are joined at different time by Paddy Milner (piano), Ed Hopwood (harmonica) and Paul Tkachenko (trombone, trumpet, mandolin and even tuba on “Mess Is Everywhere”).
Like the best songwriters, Harrison’s songs are snapshots of moments in time that tell the listener more in the subtext than in the bald meaning of the words. He addresses historical events such as the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1850s (“John The Chinaman”) or the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s (“Ain’t No Justice”). He proposes possible explanations for Mississippi John Hurt’s conversational farewell of “Don’t Die Till You’re Dead” in the song of the same name or what Son House was trying to articulate about the meaning of the blues in a drunken ramble recorded in the late 1960s (“What Son House Said”).
In “House Full Of Children”, Harrison sings about the love Detroit blues guitarist Eddie “Guitar” Burns had for all the children in his life and how his devotion to them prevented him from making more music. “Meet On The Other Side” is an uplifting gospel song about the hopes and beliefs of people in the afterlife.
An intriguing feature of the album is the spoken introduction to each song by Scottish TV presenter Gail Porter. It is surprising how a simple spoken sentence or two can have a material effect on the overall impact of the song by setting the scene or providing a little background to the composition.
Perhaps the emotional highlight of the album is the closing track, “Hooker’s Song”. With simple yet beautiful piano accompaniement by Milner, the song has hints of Mark Knopfler’s gentler acoustic work as Harrison sings “This is Hooker’s song and Hooker knew the truth, ‘Cos his eyes had seen the panoramic view. When you look across the scene, all so cruel and all so mean, How could anybody not sing the blues? It doesn’t matter what you think, it only matters what you do. That’s the only thing that anyone’s ever gonna know about. And if you hit me in the face, I’m gonna fall down to the ground. It won’t matter to me if you think you’re heaven bound.”
Alternatively wry, resigned, wise and optimistic, The Panoramic View is ultimately a wholly uplifting experience. The album realises Harrison’s musical vision in full Technicolor and is one of the most impressive releases of 2018. Unmissable.