There aren’t many artists in the singer/songwriter genre left in the game today that bear as deep a connection to the craft’s old school ethos as Leo Harmonay does, and he demonstrates just how devoted he is to keeping that very spirit alive in Naked Rivers, his latest studio album out this August everywhere that independent music is sold and streamed. Right out of the gate with “Patterns,” Harmonay is harmonizing with an elegant string melody that will be revisited throughout the LP, and even if you’d thought you had heard the best that this guy can dish out, you’d better prepare yourself for an awakening with Naked Rivers.
The second half of this album has more rock elements than the first does, but they definitely mesh well in the grander scheme of things. The title track, “Broken Cup” and “You and the Sun” all have country-rock influences that aren’t all that different from the stylized framework of “Lucky Guess,” “Best Mistake” and “Contours,” though the latter trio lack the electrified depth of the former. Harmonay is showing us just how much he’s refined his skills here, and most important of all, how little interest he still has in blending in with the mainstream mundane.
This master mix is really physical from the jump, and I think that it helps us to feel the full force of Harmonay’s sound in “Patterns,” “You and the Sun,” “Labor Day” and the unforgettable “The Ballad of the Unknown River Driver.” Both he and his backing band are boasting a lot of beefiness in Naked Rivers, and although it doesn’t always culminate in an explosive release like it does in the title track, the way that this record was finished allows for us experience all of the muscularity that these compositions can produce without getting drowned in overdrive.
Most everything is built around Leo Harmonay’s vocal in Naked Rivers, but that never prevents the instrumental melodies in songs like “Contours,” “Lucky Guess,” “Lost Summer” and “Patterns” from shaping the narrative of the music just as much as any of the lyrics do. He doesn’t have to use any high-tech studio frills to get our attention in these songs; truth be told, if there would have been any additional bells and whistles added to this tracklist, I think that the LP wouldn’t have just been overwhelming in nature – it would have been flat-out unlistenable by comparison.
If you haven’t already heard the amazingly adept work of Mr. Leo Harmonay, I highly recommend getting into this latest record. Naked Rivers is undoubtedly the most in-depth and inspired of any full-length studio album that he’s released in the last few years, and though I won’t say that it reveals anything that most of his core audience didn’t already know to be true, I think that it could possibly open up the doors to unfamiliar fans who have been looking for an alternative to the mainstream folk sound. This positively qualifies as such, and it gets my stamp of approval as one of the summer’s freshest new records.