Releasing an acoustic album in 2018 is something of a brave choice. Despite being involved in a field dominated almost exclusively with dance tracks and pop-rock groups, J.R Harbidge, and his debut record First Ray of Light, sets out to prove this is a genre which can hold its own in today’s modern, eclectic musical mix.
Featuring soulful songs which explore both personal and political views of the singer/songwriter, First Ray of Light compromises of ten tracks exhibiting acoustic melodies which mix with poignant lyrics. The result? A shining collective of songs which sound as if Gerry Cinnamon grew up on a diet of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Johnny Cash instead of The Stone Roses.
Opening track and lead single, ‘Turn the Screw’, is a shining example of the album’s sheer strength. Featuring a mellowed verse, the powerful lyrics of ‘Turn the Screw’ are undoubtedly the main focus of the track. The record transitions quickly into a deeper, more melodic tone once ‘A Side of You That Cares’ softly meets our ears. Opting for melodies of a tenderer nature, Harbridge’s voice packs a surprising emotional caress.
Standout offerings on First Ray of Light include ‘Learn to Love the Rain’ and the title track; both of which push the country roots of the LP to the very limit while triumphantly maintaining enough soul as to not drift into parody. However, it must be said that at times these songs put guitar melodies in front of lyricism, ultimately leading to a dimming of intimacy.
A special mention must be given to ‘I Won’t support Your Wars’ – a track which follows the blueprint for a decent protest song with a unique twist. Providing an blaring message of disenfranchisement and objection without ever swaying into aggression, it makes its points clearly, calmly and above all effectively. Contrasting with the protest anthem is ‘Older and Sober’, a pleasant-enough addition to the record, although jarringly lacking charisma when sidled up against some of the other songs featured on First Ray of Light.
First Ray of Light by J.R Harbidge, provides a more than pleasurable listening experience. Blending classic rock, folk and country in a deeply interesting way, it effectively encapsulates the power and emotion an acoustic guitar can still have despite the many changes in popular music. It leaves high hopes for this genre making its way back into the forefront of public consciousness.