He may not have the mythologized baggage surrounding him the way Jason Isbell did when he released his solo record Southeastern back in 2013, but Jason Hawk Harris doesn’t need it. He’s proof that a new voice can still turn pain into something transcendent and make the same kind of mark. Even if you’re just hearing his name for the first time, rest assured, you won’t soon forget it. While he was already no stranger to tragedy in his life, Harris seemed to get ruthlessly pummeled by it while creating his full-length debut record Love & the Dark. What results is a close, careful study of grief, loss, and resilience made by an artist so authentically and unapologetically himself.
Love & the Dark happened in the midst of familial chaos: Harris lost his mother, his father went bankrupt, and his sister was diagnosed with MS, among other bombs dropped on him. Perhaps best summed up on the track “Giving In,” Harris sings, “I wish that where I am is where I’ve been.” On the heartbreaking “Phantom Limb,” he puts us right there in the room with him at his mother’s funeral, recalling in vivid detail the sights, the sounds, the smells. And though the desperation to dig himself out of these trying times is palpable, it is never overly heavy or bleak.
Harris has an ear for melody, and because of this potent blend of charisma and emotional depth, many of the album’s darkest moments are also its brightest. He details his struggles with his own addictions and demons all across Love & the Dark, often turning profound observations about the human condition into twangy foot-stompers or rootsy pop gems. “Cussing at the Light” finds him wrestling with alcohol (“I’ve never met a hangover I’ve liked,” he sings cleverly), weighing the value of self-medicating. It is one of Harris’ finest. “I’m Afraid” finds him exploring his relationship with faith, starting with a terrifying image of Jesus from his childhood that still haunts him. Harris handles dark humor so deftly, you’ll find yourself simultaneously shaking in your boots, shaking with laughter, and shaking your ass.