The dulcet tones of British singer-songwriter Harriet conjure the bygone era of mood rings, shag rugs and bell-bottom jeans, to say nothing of the adult contemporary songs that ruled the AM airwaves in the 1970s (in the U.S., at least) – think ONJ, the Carpenters, Carole King and Bread, among other MOR favorites. Her full-length debut from a few years back was an utter delight in that respect; about the only thing missing: wah-wah guitar effects.
One reason for the flashback sound is a factor beyond her control: her warm vocals, which echo Karen Carpenter’s not just in timbre, but inflections – the former a quirk of birth, with the latter probably learned through osmosis, as she was often rocked to sleep as a baby to the Carpenters’ music. Another reason: the songs. “Afterglow,” first heard on her full-length debut, is one example:
Released a few weeks back, Piano Sessions+ features nine songs stripped to their bare necessities: Harriet accompanied by pianist Scott Hayes. Some are covers, others – including “Afterglow” – reworked versions of her own tunes, and two are new. But that’s not all: Four unreleased demos are tacked on, too, including a cover of the Carpenters’ “Goodbye to Love.” Like many a great singer, she invests herself in the lyrics, and gives new life to well-worn songs. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” is a great example:
The other chosen covers are likewise exquisite. I only wish she’d picked a Jackson Browne song, too – “Late for the Sky,” maybe, or “Love Needs a Heart.”
Of the Carpenters cover, she explained on Facebook that it is “something I’ve always been nervous about doing and have avoided, despite the Carpenters being so important to me. However, when [producer] Steve [Anderson] presented me with a new arrangement idea for “Goodbye To Love,” I agreed that we try it and at the end of another session we had, I recorded a quick vocal. After we finished recording, we never really spoke about it again and it’s not something that was ever meant to be heard by anyone but us. But when I started looking through old demos to include on this CD and considered the nature of this release, I thought now was the right time to share it.”
Cowritten and performed with Mick Talbot, “Nothing Until” is an empathetic look at an issue as relevant today as it was in 2012, when they recorded it in her flat. On Facebook, she recalled that “we recorded a handful of song ideas on my 8-track digital recorder! [Mick] is the kindest man and the most incredible musician; wonderful to watch. It was such a privilege to work with him. A few days later, I put the vocal down on the track at about 2’o’clock in the morning and distinctly remember having to sing so quietly into the mic so as not to wake any of my flat mates! I decided never to re-record the vocal as these circumstances made the recording feel so rich and intimate. The song is about addiction and feeling alone with your suffering; a place I’m sure that we have all been at some point in our lives.one with your suffering; a place I’m sure that we have all been at some point in our lives.”
As a whole, the album – which is only available as a CD via Harriet’s website – is a trip into the ethos of music long past. It’s just a singer and her songs, in other words, soothing despite the tinges of sadness and regret that bubble to the fore. It’s a perfect diversion to the crazy times in which we now live.
The track list: