Leo Harmonay’s first album, Somewhere Over the Hudson, served notice that a talented new singer/songwriter in the folk tradition had emerged with a wide command of the genre and different ideas about how to manifest its traditions in engaging, modern ways. He isn’t a strict purist and both the drumming and guitar work on the album reflects his willingness to think outside the norm and bring new textures into the music. His second album The Blink of an Eye features eleven tracks that reaffirm the virtues of the genre while still reflecting Harmonay’s personal ambitions and musical excellence. He has the unique ability, certainly not shared by every performer in the field, for bringing these retro sounds into a modern context and making it work without much apparent effort.
The songs on this new album are either folk or blues in approach with stylistic deviations that set them apart from run of the mill efforts in this genre. Songs like “Up to You” and “Gone Are the Days” are the album’s clearest excursions into the blues genre and they work exceptionally well. The reason for their success, however, isn’t because Harmonay hits all of the expected blues notes. Instead, it’s because he takes the form and, instead of cutting a tribute with his songwriting credit attached, he tries to use it as a genuine vehicle for self-expression while never strictly serving up what the listener expects. A small handful of songs are cut from a purist folk cloth. The earliest of these, “River Dancer”, doesn’t flow as freely as some of the later attempts, but it’s probably the strongest lyrically. “Wounds of Love” and “Dirty River Town” have familiar elements, both musically and lyrically, but the mechanics of each performance are so vividly rendered that it redeems any flaw. Harmonay’s vocal tops off both of these aforementioned songs with its unsparing musicality, lively phrasing, and gusto.
The remainder of the songs features varying blends of Harmonay’s styles and show across the board creativity that manifests itself in different ways each time. “In the Morning Light” is one of the album’s most striking moments thanks to the use of electric guitar. Rather than attacking the song conventionally, Harmonay uses the instrument for atmosphere and it gives considerable teeth to one of the album’s more brooding moments. One of the album’s last songs, “Bridges”, is the most startling example of his skill for re-inventing traditional forms. There’s a surprising amount of dissonance powering certain passages and the raw, aggressive sound of the recording is unusual for offerings from this genre. The eleven tracks on The Blink of an Eye will please purist and iconoclastic tastes alike. Such all-around talents are rare. Leo Harmonay’s vocal style will even win you over after, perhaps, some initial hesitation. He has immense likability, intelligence, and a fantastic command of every musical style he touches upon. The Blink of an Eye will make any fan of his first album quite happy and, undoubtedly, win Leo Harmonay many more fans.
9 out of 10 stars.