The Birmingham singer/songwriter James Harbridge has just released his debut solo record called First Ray of Light. But this isn’t Harbridge’s first foray into music although it is his first foray into the area of country tinged Americana and he definitely seems to have the formula down. His songs on this record are dealing with the themes that are so often found in country and Americana music; themes of death and grief, songs of protest and songs that are poems of longing, trying to figure out which way a journey has taken you and where it still has yet to take you.
The opening track on First Ray of Light is called “Turn the Screw” and it’s definitely a protest song but its melody is as much a focus as its message. Harbridge has this way of mixing messages with saccharine rhythms the way that Tom Petty was always so good at. He’s a storyteller with a guitar, a troubadour whose songs you cannot turn away from. The second track, “A Side Of You That Cares” is a sad fated ballad but again, and the organ peels help to make this so, has such a wonderful and catchy melody that one cannot help but be drawn in.
There are uppity country tunes here too like the playful splendor of the tune “Older and Sober” which though dealing with themes of a past life that may have been less than bountiful it is a look in a new direction which is a theme for so many of the songs on First Ray of Light. One gets a deeper sense of this theme on the somber and beautifully crafted “Have Mercy” and later on the excellent protest ballad “I Won’t Support Your Wars” a song whose title really says it all.
Over the course of the ten songs on First Ray of Light, James Harbridge manages to highlight life’s obstacles, both big and small, yet he doesn’t focus on drilling down the listener with harsh messages but rather speaks from the heart and the gut, which is what will really leave a lasting impression on listeners.
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