If you can get through “End of the Rope”, the first song on Brett Harris’ sophomore album Up in the Air without beaming and feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, you probably have no soul. It comes at you full blast with a toe-tapping beat and sunny guitars and keys. And it is just one of the many addictive earworms that make up Air, and proof that Durham, North Carolina native Harris is a force to be reckoned with. His country-inflected pop gems shimmer and shine with sweet melodies and soft harmonies. And if you think you hear hints of Big Star, you would be dead on. Harris was a band member in a recent series of Big Star tribute shows. Now, he’s used all he learned to hone in on a sound that undeniably suits him perfectly.
Praise from Ken Stringfellow and Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake only serve to solidify Harris’ status as a rising pop artist to watch. The sounds he’s created on Air have such a classic feel to them, referencing retro pop-rock and country, enriched with his smoky smooth vocals. “High Times” may conjure images of a young Elton John with its soulful piano-electric guitar mix and nostalgic, rainy day vibe. “When my high times are over/When that big red sun is sinking low/Will you carry me across the river/Where the peaceful waters flow,” he sings on this timeless track, slightly bluesy and oh so pretty.
The album’s title track “Up in the Air” is another candy-sweet gem of a tune with a fun and mischievous guitar riff and light-on-your-feet lyrics. “Up in the air/And I don’t know where I’m goin’/ High as a bird wingin’ round/Why should I care/About which way the wind is blowin’/Cause I make my home wherever my feet hit the ground,” he sings, carefree and easy. This one, like many on Air, is all late sixties, breezy goodness, with an unmistakable hook. “Out of the Blue” has a similar whimsy, but with more sweeping, epic pop romance. This track is about as Big Star as it gets.
“Rumor” brings a sly country texture to the record, and one of the only hints at darkness. A song about elusiveness and desperation, it also features one of the record’s most layered instrumental arrangements, with a stunning, western-noir horn solo and a manic organ that offers a little gospel inflection. “Shadetree” has that same slyness, but takes it in an unexpected direction with a bursting pop chorus There is no room for boredom on Harris’ record. He follows every path that intrigues him and has a more interesting set of songs because of it.
Even when he keeps it simpler, like on the country-folky “Lies”, his melodies stand out on their own, with just the right amount of fizz and swoon-worthy vocals. Harris has recently taken part in a Beach Boys tribute benefit and has played with The dB’s in the past, too, so needless to say he has been in good company. And as he continues to perfect his craft, we will all be listening with open ears.