Louisville's DIY King Returns
Scotch Irish Bastard (HiVariety)
He's everything a garage band wants to be: low-fi and skilled with a small mixing board. The difference? He can write and sing and play a variety of instruments and mix them all by himself (with a touch of help from some other local talent) and still sound like he's using a full band. He turns the guerilla tactics of the do-it-yourselfer recording artist into a clean, complete sound, much like what Bruce Springsteen did with Nebraska but without the wailing and the references to Charles Starkweather and heartbroken state police dispatchers.
So five years after his last DIY effort, HØØT, and seven years following the career retrospective Rickenharper, Louisville's Rick Harper has returned with the home-brewed Scotch Irish Bastard. And in it, all the trademarks that worked for him as a DIY master in his previous two releases are there: the overdubs of his voice doing harmonies, the well-blended instrumentation of bass, guitar, harmonica and organ, songs that range from an exploration of the dreariness of a late-winter day in Louisville to self-assertion and hope, the honesty and simplicity of the songs and pop hooks that come straight from the Beatles `65 textbook.
That kind of refreshing pop blast greets us in the opening track, "My Dream Last Night," about the yin of everyday despondency and annoyances and the yang of a perfect, selfless world in dreams. But the pop vibe plummets with the next track, "A So What Day," which perfectly depicts a wintry day in the city - sporadic light snow being buffeted by a cold wind, bad coffee, loneliness - only to return with "Loans and Favors," Harper's starving artist mini-biography containing the CD's title in the chorus, "'Cos I'm a Scotch Irish Bastard / Of Scotch Irish Bastards / Got to take care of myself." Self-preservation never sounded so defiantly positive.
There's more clean pop with "More that Beautiful," co-written and performed with Tim Krekel and "Ain't Foldin' Up for You." Both of those tracks lead into a triptych of love-gone-wrong songs: "All the Time," about a former lover dead more than two decades, "Cut and Run," (co-written with Northern Kentucky's Niki Buehrig) about escaping a co-dependent relationship and the attempt to squeeze out a sour relationship in "Don't Want to Remember At All." Hearts don't just break in Harper's world - they auger in at full speed.
Heartbreak aside, Rick Harper's music tells the story of a man with experience in both music and life, with four decades of one and five decades of another behind him. He has shared that with us in the best way he knows how: a triad of self-recorded, -performed and -produced releases. Keeping his art self-made doesn't mean that Harper hasn't grown as a musician (anybody who has played as long and as with many people as Harper has doesn't need to grow anymore). It just means that Harper knows what works for him.
And Scotch Irish Bastard proves it always works well.