Bio + Press
Originally from New York City, Jesse Harris is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer of artists from all over the world. He has been making records since the mid 90s, when he started in the group Once Blue on EMI Records. It was his first experience writing for another singer, lead vocalist, Rebecca Martin. Combining folk, jazz and pop, the group defined a direction for Harris and was also notable for featuring the guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.
As a solo artist since then Jesse has released 12 albums, including many with his former backing band The Ferdinandos, one all-instrumental recording (Cosmo), and his latest, Borne Away, an intimate and haunting solo acoustic presentation with subtle overdubs played or sung by Harris. It stands in stark contrast to his previous release, Sub Rosa, a large production, recorded and mixed mostly in Rio de Janeiro, with arrangements of strings and horns, and guest artists such as Conor Oberst (on whose Bright Eyes album, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, Jesse played guitar), Melody Gardot (with whom he has written several songs, for her albums My One And Only Thrill and The Absence), Bill Frisell (making his second appearance on a Harris recording), and Norah Jones.
In 2003 he received the Grammy Award for Song Of The Year for Norah Jones’ breakout hit “Don’t Know Why,” from her debut album, Come Away With Me, which has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. Four other Harris compositions appear on it, “Shoot The Moon,” “One Flight Down,” “I’ve Got To See You Again,” and “The Long Day Is Over,” and he plays guitar throughout. Since then, Jones and Harris have collaborated many times. She duets with him on “What Makes You” from his album The Secret Sun and sings harmonies on several others,Crooked Lines, While The Music Lasts and Watching The Sky. He appears as guitarist on almost all of her albums, contributing songwriting to The Fall, and produced her version of his song “World Of Trouble” for the Ethan Hawke film The Hottest State. That soundtrack features not only Harris’ score, but new versions of his songs by Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Cat Power, Feist, The Black Keys, M. Ward, Brad Mehldau, Bright Eyes, and others. Recently Harris and Jones got together to record his song “It Was The Last Thing On Your Mind,” which is featured, along with a scene of them performing it, in the forthcoming comedy They Came Together, starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd.
Other artists who have covered his material include Smokey Robinson, Sasha Dobson (whose album Modern Romance he co-produced with Richard Julian), George Benson, Pat Metheny, and Solomon Burke, on whose album Like A Fire Harris also plays guitar and sings backing vocals. Songwriting collaborations have included Madeleine Peyroux, Lizz Wright, and Maria Gadu.
Recently Jesse joined John Zorn’s The Song Project, along with Mike Patton and Sofia Rei, writing lyrics for various Zorn compositions and singing them at festivals worldwide with an all-star band that features Marc Ribot on guitar, John Medeski on keyboards, and Zorn conducting.
Secret Sun Recordings / Coming June 25, 2013
Borne Away, the new 14-song “solo acoustic” album from Jesse Harris, was never meant to be an album at all. Why solo-acoustic in quotations? Because added to the basic live tracks of Harris with his guitar are light overdubs he plays almost entirely himself.
In the Summer of 2012, in a burst of inspiration, mostly while on tour promoting his last release Sub Rosa, he wrote about 30 new songs. Of his process, Harris explains, “I wanted to strip away the luxury of time and thought that goes so often into songwriting and write as quickly as possible.” Coming from someone who makes an album a year, while also writing for and producing other artists, that may sound a bit surprising. Harris counters, “Duke Ellington wrote thousands of songs, so to come up with one album of original material a year is really not so much.”
To document everything he had, in a two-day session this past September, he recorded his new tunes on the same 1969 Martin nylon string on which he composed them. Every couple of weeks, returning to the studio, usually with another one or two new ones, he would add touches of Hammond organ, Casio keyboard, harmony vocals, kalimba, glockenspiel, and percussion. The only other musician to participate was friend Charlotte Kemp Muhl (Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger, Kemp and Eden), whose haunting vocal arrangement on the title track and harmonies on the album’s final song, The Silent Sea, recall the music of classic horror films, 60s folk, and exotica. Although this was their first musical collaboration, Harris and Muhl have worked together before, with her playing the role of the “Succubus” in several DIY iPhone videos he made last year.
Sitting suddenly on top of a pile of recordings, Harris culled the 14 for this album. “Eventually I’d like to release another volume from this series. I chose these first 14 because they belonged together and seemed to tell a story.”
This first volume, if you will, tends towards the dark and mysterious side, and simmers with the sultriness of summer in New York City. It opens with a wallop: “Borne Away” is an open letter to a departed friend; leading into “Stray Dog,” the last song written and recorded for the album, inspired by the stray dogs Harris encountered on the streets of Santiago, Chile while on tour this past December in South America; and followed by “Black Orchid,” a love song in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe. The collection goes on to feature some of Harris’ best writing, such as the Tin Pan Alley inspired “Do You Really Love Him?,” the waltz “Say That You’ll Never Go Away” and the lightly swinging “Listen To Your Heart.” Along the way are confessional folk songs, such as the gorgeous “Ghost Of The Summer Heat” and “Straight Line,” as well as more the more abstract, like the rhythmically complex “The Pain Has Just Begun” and the harmonically rich “Like A Wheel.”
Borne Away is the most personal and intimate offering from Jesse Harris yet, as well as the strongest showcase of his singing, which has never sounded so relaxed and expressive. While it may be the most stripped down of his albums (this is his 12th), it is somehow the most well orchestrated and fully realized, the work of an artist who continues to grow and evolve.