Harry James – Harried (2022)

Harry James - Harried (2022)
Artist: Harry James
Album: Harried
Label: Potions Music NYC
Year Of Release: 2022
Format: FLAC (tracks)
01. Harried
02. Royal Robes of Roe
03. Stutter
04. Duffel from the Don
05. Boogie Bored
06. Grand Marquis
07. Dear Edgar Miller
08. The Diminisher
09. Romancing the Stoned
10. Light in the Lizard
11. Lily Pad
12. Tiny Steps
13. Elmore
14. Heart Strings


Just a year after the release of his solo debut, Harry James Brenner Jr. is back with hissophomore effort, Harried. Blending elements of jazz, hip-hop, ambient, and R&B, Brenner’s latest work is a natural progression of the style and themes established on 2021’s Buy the Numbers, adding fresh dimension to his sound while affirming his steadfast personal vision.

Harried bears the same core approach as its predecessor succinct, self-recorded themes built on overlaid lines and intricate rhythms but its 14 tracks reflect a marked evolution in Brenner’s craft and methods. Notably, the album finds his role shifting from sole performer to arranger and collaborator: where Buy the Numbers saw Brenner handle all instrumentation himself, Harried gathers contributions from a stellar cast of musicians drawn from Chicago’s jazz and experimental scenes, including Keefe Jackson, Dave McDonnell, Gerald Bailey, Hope Arthur, and Bill MacKay. This expanded palette brings new levels of texture and depth toBrenner’s compositions, with his distinctive piano runs and percussive flourishes now in dialogue with instruments ranging from flugelbone (“Royal Robes of Roe”) and saxophone (“The Diminisher”) to thumb piano and hand drums (“Lily Pad”). At the same time, we hear Brenner branching out in his own playing, layering deep synthesizer washes on the title track, exploring polyrhythmic cycles on “Boogie Bored,” and forgoing percussion altogether on “Dear Edgar Miller.” With nods to influences like Sun Ra, Mulatu Astatke, and Yesterday’s New Quintet, the songs vary in their tempo and timbre but share an overarching sense of handmade intimacy, the results at once evocative and forward-thinking, searching and deliberate, raw and refined.

The album culminates with “Heart Strings,” a track co-penned twenty years prior by Brenner’s friend and former bandmate Dan Jugle, who passed away in 2018. In many ways, the track is an outlier: a note-for-note recreation of the song’s original bedroom demo, here we find Brenner working within a conventional pop structure, augmenting his steady kit work with accordion and acoustic guitar and, for the first time, contributing lead vocals. Part celebration, part memorial, “Heart Strings” stands apart in its execution but ultimately dovetails in its effect, deftly embodying the emotional themes that have driven Brenner’s solo work to date. Like his debut, Harried is anchored in notions of remembrance, healing, and personal history; as conveyed through both its title and sonic treatment, the record finds its author reflecting on the passage of time, the burden of loss, and prospect of finding renewal in its wake. Using his music to explore the porous boundary between the known past and future possibility, Brenner invites his listeners to arrive at a similarly open and unbound state, coaxing subtle introspection and spirited release in equal measure along the way.

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