David Harrod is a singer/songwriter out of Sydney, Australia. Empire Down is his second EP after a 25-year break from the music industry, having played in a band in the ‘80s. Drawing upon influences like the Eagles, Supertramp and Dave Gilmore, Empire Down is an old-school outsized production still centered around Harrod’s solo-guitar core.
“Good Enough for Me” opens the record with acoustic guitar buoyed by sitar drones, offering a throwback ‘dreamy’ feel. The vocals and drums kick in shortly thereafter; Harrod’s vocals have a gentle quality that makes them sit well together in harmony, while the in-the-room immediacy of the stomp-clap percussion make the arrangement sound full. A rumination on patience and contentedness, “Good Enough for Me” is a warm invitation into the EP, just the kind of track hippies used to get lost in.
“The River Road” contrasts a bright fingerpicked guitar with a deep heartbeat-rhythm kick drum. Harrod is in a more plaintive, nostalgic mode here, and as such his performance is a bit more emotional with a dramatic strain on the “I won’t let you go” refrain. The production has a touch more of a presence here—the aforementioned drums have a wall-of-sound reverb on them, while an electric guitar way back in the mix gives the whole thing some urgency. Once again Harrod’s harmonies are a highlight here evoking the vast soundstage of a 10cc record. The subtle edge of intensity on “The River Road” keeps Harrod from hewing too close to a formula, giving Empire Down a bit of an emotional arc.
“Not Ready For Love” slows the proceedings down considerably, moving the singing overdrive of the electric guitars to the forefront. Some ambient keyboards help support the various dreamy elements of the track, while a straightforward drum track keeps the song from floating off into the sky. Harrod’s retro stylings reach their peak here, as this song would fit as easily on a record 35 years ago as they would now. The song’s gentle conclusion is also sweet as they come, letting Harrod’s voice—once again the track highlight—bring the tune back down to earth.
Title track “Empire Down” closes the EP out. It’s a bit more of a rocker than the preceding work, kicking off with a blistering guitar and a tense progression. Lyrically a call to arms, the instrumental only enhances the rousing themes with heavier, flashier drumming and multiple solos. When the arrangement clears out for the 12-string three minutes in, it’s clear Harrod has a strong grasp on what makes a great moment in rock music. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting him to tread into this territory, seeming a little more George Harrison than Tom Petty, but “Empire Down” keeps the record potent to the last.
Though he may have been out of the limelight for some time, Harrod demonstrates on Empire Down that he hasn’t lost any of his edge. Capably drawing from a broad well of rock traditions, the set reads like an A.M. radio masterclass, all wrapped in a tasteful sheen of production. All in all it’s good that Harrod has returned to making records, because few do it quite like this anymore.
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