On October 5th, British singer songwriter J R Harbidge releases his debut solo album, ‘First Ray Of Light,’ via Absolute Label Services.
Inspired by the likes of Jackson Browne, Ryan Adams, Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills & Nash and Neil Young, ‘First Ray Of Light’ is an accomplished 10-track collection of soulful, country-tinged and often-contemplative songs. The album is both personal and political, but rooted in the everyday experience of coping with life’s ups and downs. “Sometimes the only way to get something out is in a song,” says James. “You can find something positive in a rough situation; if you can write a song at least you’re perhaps turning it back on itself”.
The title track ‘First Ray Of Light’ exemplifies this. There’s an understanding there have been bad times, but equally a positive message, of there being light at the end of the tunnel. You can also catch the hint of a Beatles inspiration with some backwards guitar during the solo; which recurs throughout the album: “I always try and bring out melody in everything because I love to sing along to songs. If I can’t sing along to a song I’m not so interested in it.”
Other highlights include the candid songs about relationships; the precise and gentle ‘A Side Of You That Cares’ with its brave and affecting instrumental interlude, the soulful ‘When You Don’t Love Your Man’, and the keening ‘Learn To Love The Rain’. There’s anger too with the vigorous up-tempo opening of lead single ‘Turn The Screw’, an accusatory song about people in control who wreak havoc and cause damage with no comeback. And don’t miss the equally impassioned ‘I Won’t Support Your Wars’, a considered and unashamedly pacifist manifesto which was ‘anti-war song of the week’ with the Stop War Coalition.
The folk tinged ‘Have Mercy’ begins on acoustic guitar and expands into something much larger and anthemic; you hear the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young inflections in the layered voices. The excellent album closer ‘I Know You Know I Know’ is a similarly big song; almost seven minutes long driven by Hammond organ ensuring a particularly rich and hard sound.
A rocker from the Black Country with strong roots in the Birmingham music scene, James Harbidge has been playing, writing and producing for over twenty years with over 1 million streams/views of his music. As a teenager he played in his first band, Powderfinger before forming cult grunge band Third Bullet in the mid-noughties, whose song ‘Resistance Is Futile’ was picked up and used in a Harley Davidson advertising campaign. There’s also always been a love of production. Finding a home in fellow Birmingham band The Twang’s studio space enabled James to hone his craft, often working with and learning from producer Gavin Monaghan (The Editors, Ocean Colour Scene) which eventually led to him engineering JAWS’ debut album in 2014.
Both Third Bullet and his involvement with The Twang’s studio were winding down as the initial recordings for ‘First Ray Of Light’ were being made. Both James’ personal circumstances and the music scene Third Bullet had thrived in, were altering, which led to a degree of introspection encouraging a change of direction in his sound, further influenced by a move to Derbyshire where he finally finished recording the album.
While ‘First Ray Of Light’ may chronicle a process of growth, both personally and musically, viewed in its diverse whole, it arrives a fully-formed entity, and heralds a new and compelling voice on the UK Americana scene.
‘First Ray Of Light’ is out October 5