Leo Harmonay - The Blink of an Eye
The Blink of an Eye is one of 2016’s best albums in the folk/blues vein. Much of it is powered by acoustic instruments, but that shouldn’t confuse listeners that the collection is some elevator music approximation or soft-pedaled imitation. Each of its ten songs are marked by unquestionable authenticity and are never content simply aping the genre basics. Harmonay, instead, consistently attempts expanding the vocabulary of the form with unexpected instrumental moments and novel turns on tradition that never sounds out of place in this context. He has an unique vision for traditional music that reflects his personality and experiences in a way that few performers of this style manage in the modern era. There’s no self-indulgence here either and Harmonay’s voice is quite up to the task of retaining the listener’s attention over the course of The Blink of an Eye’s ten songs.
“Up to You” starts The Blink of an Eye off with a blues song. It isn’t some clumsy or hamfisted attempt to summon the form’s expected turns but, instead, takes on the style with surprising ease. The personal desperation in the lyrical content never goes in for melodrama either and, instead, speaks with the same plain-spoken physicality that the drumming embodies in its bare bones approach. “River Dancer” has much more sophistication than the first song, but it isn’t radically different in tone and temperament from the other tracks. The same attention to detail that fuels the lyrics of songs like the opener is just as present in these more poetic-minded outings and the same unerring instinct for artistic taste stays just as steady here as elsewhere. The musicianship is quite high here, but naturally keeps its focus on remaining accessible to listeners. Backing vocals have a significantly positive effect on “Washing Myself Clean”, but it isn’t because Harmonay needs the singing help. Instead, the chorus of supporting voices gives the song a light suggestion of gospel that many will enjoy. He reins in his adventurous edge on the song “Wounds of Love” and gives listeners one of The Blink of an Eye’s most accomplished folk tunes. He backs it up with a sparkling vocal full of emotion and smarts.
“Gone Are the Days” has a rough-hewn sound quite unlike many of the others songs and Harmonay’s vocals are more than up to the task of match its forcefulness. “Dirty River Town” is, like “Wounds of Love”, a pure and unadulterated folk song that doesn’t run very long but has an impressively complete feel and seems to encompass an entire world in less than three minutes. The album’s conclusion, “The Joy in Our Sadness”, is the most musically ambitious piece on this release and has a great lyric that speaks to the heart with clarity and just the right touch of poetic grace. It ends The Blink of an Eye on an elegiac note, but listeners won’t walk away disheartened. Despite its often rueful or sad demeanor, these are ultimately life affirming songs that Harmonay invests with gentleness, passion, and patient artistry.
9 out of 10 stars
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