Harper Simon - Division Street Album Review
You often wonder, staring through the frosty shop window of an outsider's perspective, how it must work for the sons and daughters of famous musicians. Harper Simon is the offspring of none other than Paul (with his first wife Peggy Harper) and having someone so iconic changing your nappy has certainly opened some doors; collaborations (Yoko Ono, Daniel Merriwether), film soundtracks (Abel Ferrrara's The Blackout & New Rose Hotel, Bruce Beresford's Peace, Love & Understanding) and then - most infamously of all - a youthful cameo on Sesame Street.
Perhaps strings were pulled to make the latter happen, but Simon's self-titled 2010 début was produced by veteran Bob Johnston - a former Johnny Cash studio man - and featured a host of rootsy session musicians with CVs long enough to choke a dozen donkeys. It wasn't exactly a surprise that the end product navigated pristine country rock territory, but the more hirsute cadre of the rock press loved it, a facet which may have proved some compensation for its mostly cult appeal.
Tom Rothrock assumes duties this time round, and Division Street relocates its feeling of inspiration from Nashville to sixties LA. His former customers have included Beck and the tragically doomed Elliott Smith but, reassuringly, he isn't troubled by the kind of idiosyncracies they must've brought to the table. The reason for this is that the songs here are by and large sweetly crafted and easy on the ear, indebted to dappled sunshine and the kind of indie rock construct which made The Shins into bona fide US rock royalty overnight on 2007s Chutes Too Narrow.
Not that there's anything wrong with having obvious points of reference, and on single Bonnie Brae our man hits the jackpot via those glistery chiming guitars we're suckers for and a brain-hijackingly addictive chorus. It's a high point you sense dad would approve of, but whilst Simon Jr. comes close (on the likes of 99 and the string laden Breathe Out Love), it's one Division Street never quite reaches again. Too often elsewhere the spark that helps them transcend the form is missing, resulting in songs that are perfectly likeable like Chinese Jade and Eternal Questions, but paradoxically don't ask enough of them.
There are exceptions to this inoffensive-by-numbers framework - interesting ones too - that only provide a glimpse of what could've been. Dixie Cleopatra's rumbling fuzz bass and dirtier garage feel kicks sand in the face of most of its neighbours, whilst the briefer and faster Nothing Get Through is a raucous side swipe that walks about like some muscle-bound older brother, pissed off at THE WORLD and taking you along for the ride in his '93 Corvette.
So then. Mummy and/or daddy big in the music biz; Watchya gonna do? In the case of Harper Simon, he's probably making the records so far he thinks they want to hear. To really build his own identity he should think next about making the record he does.
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