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JP Harris and the Tough Choices

Home Is Where The Hurt Is – 2014 (Cow Island)

Reviewed by Greg Yost

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CDs by JP Harris and the Tough Choices

It only takes one listen to "Home Is Where The Hurt Is, "the new album from JP Harris and the Tough Choices, to be reminded of just how powerful traditional country music can be. Free of the glossy production sheen that accompanies most mainstream country releases and chock full of simple songs that strike an emotional chord, this 10-song collection is efficient, evocative and most importantly, enjoyable.

The secret of Harris' success on this new album is no real secret at all. In the same way that mirepoix (carrots, celery and onions) is the base for many culinary masterpieces, the holy trinity of music is three simple factors - songs, voice and musicianship. Harris knocks all three components out of the park thanks to a unique honky tonk voice, honest songs that reflect real life and tight musical accompaniment.

Harris is a definite throwback to a long-gone era, but his vocal style plays against type. The deep sonority (like Dale Watson) and the pronounced twang (like Wayne Hancock or Hank III) often associated with popular honky tonk practitioners are largely absent, but there is just enough of each quality present in Harris' voice to sit comfortably within the genre.

In fact, the absence of overwhelming vocal characteristics allows Harris to use his range a bit more freely and dial up a sound when it helps emphasize an emotional point he is making. For instance, Harris takes his vocals a little deeper on "Every Little Piece" and by doing so, he drives home the hatred in his heart for an ex-lover like a railroad spike.

Just like on "Every Little Piece," Harris is at his best when conveying honest stories and real emotion. Whether trying to contain post-breakup emotions on "A Breaking Heart," sharing the sad and mundane, but strangely comfortable, nature of life on the road on "Truckstop Amphetamines" or taking a starkly honest look inward on "Maria," Harris is adept at capturing life in simple, but impactful ways.

Big dreams, no-name pills, doctors' notes and lawyer bills, yeah I'm a big star/ Sometimes you just lose yourself just figuring who you are/ Wait around 'til I get paid, I'll bring your blonde hair back from gray, yeah I owe you/ A place to sit and watch the stars burn out below you/ If I had my boyish charm like I used to/ If I knew some rich folks out in LA/ If your hair was black, your name was Maria Then I wouldn't be singing songs about Tennessee "Maria"

Finally, "Home Is Where The Hurt Is" benefits from cohesive musicianship and the strong bond between singer and ensemble. Harris smartly avoids using studio hands to record the album, and in doing so, he showcases the symbiotic relationship he enjoys with his constant companions on the road, the Tough Choices.