Cosmic cowboy Honey Harper sprinkles a hat full of star-dust on this extra-terrestrial debut. Born William Fussell and raised in the southern states of Georgia & Florida, he now resides in London under the pseudonym Honey Harper (each element a surname of his great-Grandparents). In previous guises with limited success, Fussell explored the pop and post-punk genres. This album, however, takes the listener on a very personal journey of the songwriter which is ultimately grounded but not completely defined by the country music that he grew up with and has returned home to.
Decked out in his stetson hat, he looks like the stereotypical face of modern country music. His music, however, is anything but standard fare. Co-written with his wife, Alana Pagnutti, ‘Starmaker’ brilliantly fuses country, classical, folk, pop and electronica. Comparisons and influences easily cascade through this release from Brian Eno, Joni Mitchell, Gram Parsons to Neil Young & Fleet Foxes. The tracks examine the thorny subjects of despair &, hope on ‘In Light of Us’; loss & betrayal on ‘The Day it Rained Forever’; family estrangement on ‘Tired Tower’; a lover’s absence on ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’; grief on ‘Something Relative’ and fame-chasing on ‘Starmaker’.
The dreamy and melodic opener, ‘Green Shadows’ has echoes of French pop outfit ‘Air’ in its intro. ‘In Light of Us’ grows from darkness into something uplifting and hopeful – “…my skin is dust, my future’s past…Today, nothing helps you more than your own you..”. The track finishes with an exquisite instrumental piece. This classical feel is evident also on ‘Something Relative’ – is a song written in honour of the passing of a close friend of Fussell’s. Despite the space that Fussell creates in the music, the dark and telling lyrics are a mainstay on this album – “…last night, as you laid in your own hell…like some galaxy lost in a solar wind,.searching for something that’s relative…”. The track ‘Suzuki Dreams’ was partly recorded in Budapest with the Hungarian Studio Orchestra. It would not be a surprise to see future Honey Harper songs included in multiple movie scores, with the emotion that his music evokes.
One of the stand-out tracks for me is ‘The Day It Rained Forever’. It has an air of familiar melancholy about it, terrific verses and a real Americana vibe to the chorus – “…how many lives have you took around, and you still can’t believe in what’s right..”
‘Tired Tower’ encapsulates Fussell’s separation from his grandparents, being at odds with their religious fanaticism. The track also contains some of the best lyrics on the album – “…Like your higher power, you tread lightly on the truth…dancing like an angel in the devil’s high-heel shoes..”. He teams up with Italian-Greek songwriter Mariangela Celeste on the brilliant ‘Vaguely Satisfied’, which also features a gorgeous flute solo.
Admittedly, I feel that the real strength of the album is in the earlier part of the album with some of the latter tracks such as ‘Strawberry Lite’ meandering slightly and Harper’s voice getting somewhat lost among the music. Recorded with Sébastien Tellier in Paris, the final and title track ‘Starmaker’ is an atmospheric end to the album. The ethos of the song is about the desire to succeed in the merciless music business. Harper’s singing is a little more forced here and perhaps reflects the twisted desperation, grasping for that ‘star’ status – “I know you want more, but it’s hard to know what you want it for..”
It is fitting that Fussell has said that one of the biggest influences for ‘Starmaker’ was Brian Eno’s track ‘Weightless’ from the ‘Apollo’ album. Honey Harper has the ability to produce music that sounds serene and as light as the air around us but with lyrics that can have a huge relevance, weight and honesty about them. Fussell has been quoted as saying that the record is the struggle between love and art & the complexities that it brings. His music really epitomises this – easy & fun-loving on first glance, with vast worlds of compromise and complications beneath the surface, always swinging somewhere between the extremes of joy and pain.