Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lost But Not (Quite) Forgotten

I’ve often mused that for every great band out there that we love and listen to, there are probably three of equal value we’ve never heard and never will, but would certainly enjoy if we ever did. And I don’t mean the groups that never get signed or never make it out of a certain region, etc. I’m talking about those artists who put out records, get some exposure, maybe make a splash or two, but are still widely overlooked not only by mainstream attention, but the knowing “underground” scene as a whole. I mean lets face it, there’s only so much time to listen to so much music, everybody is going to overlook somebody and some of those somebodies seem to get overlooked by most everybody.

With that said, I give you the Harvest Ministers. Who? Exactly. So obscure are these guys that, while they have a website of their own, they don’t even have a little one line Wiki blurb. Sad, right? And yet at one time they toured with Everything but the Girl and Edwyn Collins, performed on high profile television spots, made records with hit making producers and received no small amount of critical praise – but outside of Ireland they’re pretty much unknown.

All I can tell you about this friendly little pop collective from Dublin is that they’re helmed by guitarist/vocalist William Merriman, they’ve been putting out quality music for around two decades and at one time they were part of the Sarah Records roster (which is how I stumbled on them). Yet despite having a radio smooth, adult contemporary appeal (or maybe because of this), they were overshadowed by more prominent label mates like Heavenly, the Wake and the ever-adored Field Mice. More polished rock than heart-on-the-sleeve twee pop, their subject matter, though similar, often as not dealt with the more mature, sobering aspects of their boy-meets-girl-loses-girl-so-writes-a-song-about-girl contemporaries, touching a darker, more socio-political realism. Basically, they feel like the older guys in the room, “saying been there, done that” to the self-indulging self-pity (and I say that with much love) of youth’s angst, to deal more with the life-long consequences of heartbreak, flashes of joy and the basic steps of getting along in a troubled world.

And while the Harvest Ministers might not be quite as immediate - though there are certainly exceptions - they benefit greatly from a touch of patience and repeat listens that subsequently bring about a rewarding and multi-layered experience, which in many cases can be more fulfilling and ultimately timeless. There are few songs to beat the “woe is me humor” of If It Kills Me, and It Will or the quirky yet poignant That Won’t Wash, and albums like Little Dark Mansion and A Feeling Mission provide a darkish to whimsical approach to the fears and expectations of life that we all face on a daily basis.

Merriman’s voice is warm and friendly. He does not preach or dictate, simply lays out how he’s feeling (sometimes with a female accompaniment or even lead) over a pleasant backdrop of pop-strummed and jangling guitars or more jazz-tinged piano-bass workouts or picked out, lightly orchestrated balladry or simple, gospel-bent harmonizing. Each single is an exercise in a new musical adventure, and each album dabbles in just enough genre-mixing to keep things active, while never losing familiarity or cohesiveness through over indulgence.

What’s great, and yet at the same time a bit disappointing, is that you can satiate your curiosity over whatever I’m driveling about here for a very low price, as many of their albums – A Feeling Mission, Orbit – can be picked up on Amazon for a mere penny (plus shipping of course) and everything else available is below the $5.00 mark. So really, why not? Get your credit cards ready!

Meanwhile, here are a few tunes (you can even hear the vinyl crackling!)… Petticoats, The First Star, Railroaded

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