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JP Harris ought to keep calling

Johnny D's, Somerville, MA, January 26, 2013

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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J.P. Harris isn't exactly a household name, despite putting out his excellent debut last year "I'll Keep Calling" on the well-respected small indie Cow Island Music label from Massachusetts.

The Alabama resident, who's done time in Louisiana in the oil industry, living in Vermont, driving trucks cross country and who knows what else, also managed to find time to get a music career going. Smart move.

He may be from Alabama, but he sure sounds like he did heavy time in Texas because this guy is a real deal honky tonker. That's the basis of most of the material he played over 90 minutes, although he also delved into rockabilly and trucker music. He infused the material with a tremendous amount of musical heart and alterations to make for an engaging bath of songs.

His brand of honky tonk music sounded familiar - something that you could easily hear folks like Yoakam play with songs like the title track of his album, Badly Bent and the very first song he ever wrote, If There Ain't No Honky-Tonks In Heaven (quite fine for a debut effort).

As for the trucking music, he played his own Gear Jammin' Daddy, Red Simpson's Nitro Express and Del Reeves' 1968 trucker's anthem, Looking At The World Through A Windshield, who Harris lamented as the most unrecognized country singer.

Harris left no doubt from his covers where his musical loyalties lay. For good measure, he covered Dave Dudley's Six Days on the Road for his encore.

Harris has one great voice - very full bodied and quite easy on the ears no matter the pacing. The guy can sing. Fortunately, the sound man was smart enough to keep Harris' vocals up high above the backing quartet on almost every song.

He also is a highly capable front man. Besides being a great singer, he also has an engaging, winning, friendly stage demeanor, explaining the background of a few songs and telling a bit about himself. He's the kind of guy you won't soon forget visually either given that he looks like a cross between a Hasid with his long black beard and short hair on top and a biker with heavily tattooed arms and hands.

As for the band, The Tough Choices haven't been a unit all that long. The veteran - Thomas Bryan Eaton from Brooklyn - has played with Harris for about three years, but guitarist Andrew Hunt from Nashville has been in the band for only about a month.

The audience - and it was a very healthy sized crowd given a 7 p.m. start time - would never have known.

The crack band that relied very heavily on Hunt and Eaton on pedal steel. Most songs seemed to alternate between the two. Eaton was monster on pedal steel, while Hunt added a slew of twangy, steely, sometimes rockabilly licks. The rhythm section of Andy Carrell on bass and Jon Whitlock on skins capable held down the rhythm section.

With a night like this, one can only hope that JP Harris and the Tough Choices live up to the threat of his albums title, "I'll Keep Calling." So long as he's talking about music anyway.