Jesse Harris: Feel

Feel is impeccable is nearly every way – except in its ability to engage the listener. That's kinda big.

Jesse Harris


Label: Velour
US Release Date: 2007-07-10
UK Release Date: 2007-07-10

Jesse Harris is one of those musicians that you don't know you know, but you do. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with and/or written songs recorded by Bright Eyes, Willie Nelson, Madeleine Peyroux, Emmylou Harris, Cat Power, M. Ward, Pat Metheny, and Feist. Yeah... pretty damn impressive. Recently, Harris wrote the soundtrack to Ethan Hawke's upcoming film, The Hottest State, after Hawke handpicked him for the job. But if he still doesn't sound familiar, then you'd probably recognize him as the guy who wrote many of the songs on Norah Jones' breakthrough record, Come Away with Me, including the hit “Don't Know Why”. By now, Harris is probably sick of being referred to as that guy, but being known as the musician who created one of the biggest pop hits of the last decade that was actually musically solid ain't a situation to pity.

To characterize Harris as a mere sideman or collaborator, though, would be to shortchange his talent. After all, it was his already-established reputation as an accomplished musician and songwriter that led to his collaboration with Jones, and he's created an impressive body of work with his former band, the Ferdinandos. If anything, Harris has been collectively shortchanged throughout his career; while others have taken his songs or contributions and built towering and lucrative careers upon them, he has remained relatively obscure. Harris, however, rolls on, more devoted to the art than the attention it might draw.

His latest solo effort, Feel, was recorded in a whirlwind three-day stint, a fact made more amazing by the album's sound. Feel, you see, isn't the kind of album that's banged out in 72 hours, for while it's an uncomplicated listen, it's not an unsophisticated one. Combining folk simplicity with jazz textures and exotic percussion, it's an album of true artistic labor, one that reveals Harris' broad musical knowledge and songwriting promise. But does he deliver on that promise? Well, yes. And no.

What's most evident is that Harris knows how to mingle musical styles with ease. Tracks like “Walk On” and “Shadow” draw from numerous genres without belonging to any of them. Folk fingerpicking is seamlessly blended with jazzy vibraphone; bluesy organ hides beneath African rhythms. Likewise, “Fire On the Ocean” exists somewhere between calypso and reggae, but again defies being categorized in either genre. And if all of that isn't enough of a musical mosaic, Harris breaks out the banjo on “How Could It Take So Long?” and “I Would”. With so many styles in one album, things could easily go awry, but here they sound organic and harmonious.

As a singer, Harris is competent, though not impressive, which is fine for his music. His melodies may hover in a rather restricted vocal range, but his songs don't call for bombastic balladry or climatic crescendos. Whether intentional or not, his voice often sounds reminiscent of Paul Simon, though it clearly lacks the range. Lyrically, the album is winsome, though ultimately slight, dealing with the usual themes of love and longing. The narrator in many of the songs, such as “Where to Start” and “You and Me”, sounds like someone falling into or out of love for the first time, the naivety both endearing and cloying.

The main drawback to the album -- and it's rather major -- is that it all begins to sound a bit the same a third of the way into the track listing. All of the tunes are soft and understated, airy and restrained. The effect is pleasant and relaxing at first, but yawn-inducing after a while. Many of the individual songs feel like they're working up to something big, but never do; string together a few of these songs, and you've got an album that does -- or doesn't do -- the same.

All of this leads to a rather odd conclusion. Feel is a perfectly lovely album, packed with songs that are crafted with subtlety and charm. Though Harris recorded this album in a frenzy of creativity, it feels like every nuance was carefully considered and placed within the best possible context. The result is an album that is soft and lovely, but ultimately to its own detriment. After a while, you forget the music is playing, and it simply disappears without leaving much of an impact. Indeed, it almost demands that you do something else -- cook, read a book, entertain -- for it to be enjoyed, for it's not engaging enough to assume the forefront of your attention. Little wonder, then, that Hawke turned to Harris to make soundtrack music. The guy is a natural at it.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less

Alt-rock heroes the Foo Fighters deliver a three-hour blast of rock power that defies modern norms.

It's a Saturday night in Sacramento and the downtown area around the swank new Golden 1 Center is buzzing as if people are waiting for a spaceship to appear because the alt-rock heroes known as the Foo Fighters are in town. Dave Grohl and his band of merry mates have carried the torch for 20th-century rock 'n' roll here in the next millennium like few others, consistently cranking out one great guitar-driven album after another while building a cross-generational appeal that enables them to keep selling out arenas across America.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.