A Little Bit of Sickness
In this follow up to 1999's 'Breakfast', New Jersey's Eric Harrison has delivered a rough, rugged and organic collection of rock songs. 'The Sweetest Ache' and 'Friendly Town' are well crafted, as can be said of most of the material in this collection. While Harrison clearly favours the heavier numbers, his singing style can sound a little incongruous and nowhere near as convincing as on the quieter, more country orientated material like 'Crying in Your Sleep'. That aside, 'A Little Bit Of Sickness' sits snugly, somewhere between Buffalo Tom and early Soul Asylum. The magnificent cover drawing by Stephanie Natiello is also worthy of mention.
Americana UK, 2005
Pathosaurus (Selected Demos 1990-1992)
If you had to categorize Harrison's songs, you might describe them as acoustic-oriented punk death poetry. Not that I want to make light of what he's doing, because I happen to like this collection of dark, sarcastic and serious urban folk tunes. He plays primarily a simple rhythm style on electric guitar, and his melodies are catchy enough for commercial airplay. But it's the lyrics that count here, and Harrison provides a complete lyric sheet as part of the package. Here's a sample of his poetic style:
They're back-slappin' gun-totin' lookin' hard
Comparing the colors of their credit cards
Come from all around to sell the trash they bought
They wanna stop your world 'cause they're not getting off
That's from "Hollow Years." So if you're into pain, anger, and the angst of a black coated poet, this is for you. The guy can write well, sort of like a hybrid of early Dylan, Patti Smith, Roger Waters . . . you know, those depressoids whose songs became appealing on a worldwide scale. Harrison dedicates this tape to Dorie Hagler and Joey Ramone. A very entertaining tape; "and the Band Played 'Freebird'" is really funny and sadly true.
Terrence Mulligan - The Insider, 1993
Trails of the Pathosaurus
The Songs of Eric Harrison
Those who have heard "Freebird" one time too many (music's answer to mathematics' universal set) should buy Eric Harrison's Pathosaurus if for no other reason than to have a personal copy of "and the Band Played 'Freebird'," a chilling exposition of the best criminal defense since PMS. Equally good reasons, however, abound.
Harrison's best work on both Pathosaurus and his prior collection, Anyone Can Fill Your Shoes, exhibits the strengths of Elvis Costello (Harrison's voice could garner him the lead role in DeclanMacManusMania if there ever is such a thing) and Bob Dylan, his two most obvious influences. Characterized by deft lyric turns and a delivery that serves a subpoena on mind and soul, the songs are tight, pop-folk gems bristling with wry sarcasm and desperate longing. These two tapes, furthermore, are radiant with more incandescent moments than most songwriters can muster in a career. Comparisons of Harrison to Costello and Dylan are not uninvited. The tunes are punctuated with allusions to the masters of his craft. (Costelloisms like "punch the clock" and "crocodile tears" abound; "I Wanna Be Bob" speaks for itself.) Harrison's implied confidence in his ability is not, thankfully, unmerited.
My personal favorite, "Astroboy," from Shoes, boasts a set of lyrics worthy of any songwriter you can name.
Yeah she's got a brand new boy/He draws the shade, locks the door/She swoons his lips drip poetry/Tell me who's gonna wipe the floor?
Equally impressive are the haunting "Hospital Steps," the plaintive "Secret Place" and the slashing, cynical "This is America," from Pathosaurus, and "Lipstick Case" and "Hello John" from Shoes. In addition to masterful turns of phrase, Harrison also adeptly depicts the broad cast of characters who populate his songs (lovers and the loveless, beatniks and businessmen, yuppies and junkies, yokels and wanderers) and treats a disparate array of themes (political correctness, suburban malaise, addictions of all sorts, loneliness, etc.).
Shoes is the more fully realized of the two projects. It features the Crash Chorus, a band consisting of Harrison, his brother, and two childhood friends and displays a variety of styles and disciplined, but not overly reserved arrangements. My one gripe about the collection is that all the lyrics are not printed. A cheap ploy to get people to listen to the tape repeatedly if I've ever seen one. Pathosaurus, recorded on a 4-track machine this August (Shoes was produced in a New Jersey studio) is an almost entirely acoustic collection of demos reminiscent of Pete Townsend's Scoop. Almost all the lyrics are printed too. Though Pathosaurus is the more uneven in that in its comprehensiveness (there are a lot of good songs on this tape) it tends to recycle Harrison's themes (note the recurrence of pill popping people and "secret"/"some other" places), both tapes share a single-minded dedication to song and voice, and not to band, singer or image.
All of this praise should not suggest that Harrison's work has not shortcomings, but it is important to point out that these shortcomings are primarily a function of the class of songwriter into which he has put himself. For example, I would suggest that the fabric of reference and experience Harrison employs is not as dense as that of his mentors. But a moderately unfavorable comparison to Dylan and Costello is, I hope, to praise with faint damnation.
The more serious criticisms of Harrison's work are two-fold. First, his 'angry young man' stance tends to focus a bit too much on rather obvious targets like yuppie greed, bourgeois hypocrisy, redneck stupidity, and intellectual smugness. He thus covers ground that writers (again, like Dylan and Costello) have already covered more convincingly. To his credit, however, Harrison usually makes the most of his opportunities by turning these occasions into memorable songs. Essentially he is much more adept at depicting inner life and relations between individuals ("Lipstick Case" and "Neither There Nor Here" are exemplary) than he is at depicting outer life. Certain sections of "Secret Safety Net," "Something to Defend" and "Hollow Years" tend toward sloganeering and, I believe, illustrate this point. "Astroboy," on the other hand, unifies the public and the private by suggesting social relations through personal relations and is reminiscent, in this respect, of Billy Bragg's better work.
Secondly, in certain instances Harrison tends to, quite unnecessarily, put his thumb on the scales of songs he otherwise balances quite carefully. For example, the last line of "Running Out of Runway" ("crash landing up ahead") is objectionable not because it is incongruous, but rather because it spells out what the rest of the song successfully suggests. It is canned laughter to a joke that is already funny. These instances suggest that Harrison, for all his self-confidence, somewhat distrusts his poetic gift. He needn't.
The best part about this entire deal is that one needn't take my word for any of this. Eric Harrison is a 2L right here at Georgetown and plays solo at the In Chambers Pub on Fridays from 3-6 p.m. Go hear him play before you plunk down your hard applied-for student loan dollars on his tapes at our friendly corner bookstore. Go if for no other reason than to not feel like a complete dork 5 or 10 years down the line when the rest of the world will know what you missed out on.
Carl Settlemeyer, The Georgetown Review
Storm Your Revolution
When they threw you in the oven, Babe You knew it had begun How quickly your ideas go from half-baked To overdone . . .
Not exactly a Hallmark greeting, this couplet comes to us courtesy of "Storm Your Revolution!" -- the title track of the latest release from singer/songwriter/Georgetown Law student Eric Harrison. Frequent shows at Dylan's Café and the Lone Star Grill in Rosslyn combined with primetime airplay on WHFS have attracted a rapidly-growing local following that this gifted young songwriter never expected.
Law school doesn't leave much time for self-promotion, so I figured that I'd just play every couple of weeks or so to let off steam," comments Harrison. "I had no idea it would escalate into a genuine part-time job." Yet thanks to popular local acclaim of "Storm Your Revolution!" and Harrison's two prior releases, "Anyone Can Fill Your Shoes" and "Pathosaurus" (all three released on his own label), the songwriter has found himself playing to larger, more enthusiastic audiences with every performance. In fact, Harrison's growing popularity recently earned him a slot on the TV John Show, which will air on Montgomery Community Television Channel 49 throughout April. His material, which travels through Costello-Westerberg-Dylan territory with a unique spin, promises to inject the show with a welcome freshness.
So what draws a law student to songwriting? Better yet, what draws a singer/songwriter to law school? "Certainly not a desire to break into entertainment law," responds Harrison. "I want to practice the kind of law that keeps my adrenaline pumping. Right now that's criminal law.
Currently carrying a full caseload in Georgetown's Criminal Justice Clinic, Harrison has spent his third year defending clients charged with misdemeanors in D.C. Superior Court. He sees strong similarities between performance on the stage and in the courtroom. "Both require a lot of ego tempered with a little humility. And both require showmanship. With every performance you've got to engage a foreign audience, get to know them and try to win them over without compromising your dignity -- in other words, no James Taylor covers.
Indeed, Harrison's musical performances (and thankfully his legal ones as well) are blissfully J.T.-free. With a repertoire of over forty originals, he comments, he feels no need to fill his sets with other people's songs. "When I started playing live in college most of my own songs were horrible, so I had to play covers. And of course it's human nature to react more favorably to a song you recognize than to a song you don't. So when I'd play Dylan or the Dead I'd get a warm reception, which I desperately needed because my self-confidence was shaky. But to a songwriter, the applause for other people's songs starts ringing thin. You realize that it's there for the wrong reasons and it drives you to improve your own material.
Driven to improve his own material during his senior year at Princeton, where he majored in English, Harrison estimates he wrote about fifteen new songs. Upon graduating in June of 1990 he joined forces with the New Jersey-based Crash Chorus, with whom he recorded his ten-song debut "Anyone Can Fill Your Shoes." The album garnered positive feedback from Option ("original lyrics which border on genius"), The Splatter Effect ("strong songwriting, good singing, thoughtful production") and several local magazines.
Harrison continued writing during his first year of law school, and in the Summer of 1991 released "Pathosaurus," a collection of 16 stripped-down, mostly acoustic demos. Like its predecessor, "Pathosaurus" received rave reviews. The Georgetown Review described the songs as "tight, pop-folk gems bristling with wry sarcasm and desperate longing.
Storm Your Revolution!", a collection of eight new songs, was recorded by a new band with producer Steve Evetts in the Summer of 1992. "In terms of both songwriting and production," remarks Harrison, "this is by far the best thing I've ever done." Thanks to WHFS putting the album into regular rotation, D.C./Maryland-area residents have been getting the chance to share Harrison's enthusiasm.
Harrison will be performing at the Lone Star Grill in Rosslyn on April 17 and at Dylan's Café in Georgetown on April 23.
Elio Truncoso, University Press 1993
Anyone Can Fill Your Shoes
Eric Harrison's Crash Chorus
This one grew on me.
Harrison is an Elvis C. disciple who does his role model proud by writing good, economical 3-minute confessions. Like old Declan (and Graham Parker and the rest of the class of '79), Eric Harrison expresses his anger and disillusionment with endless word play, although by the end of the album I was wishing the Crash Chorus would just smash their instruments to relieve all the serious tension.
If this is their first recorded venture it shows promise - strong songwriting, good singing, thoughtful production.
Paula Carino - The Splatter Effect, 1990