The lived experience is what gives music, of any kind, meaning. After all, conveying truth, of every kind, is the songwriter’s job. No matter where on the emotional spectrum a song falls, if it’s not steeped in the honesty of human existence, it can’t fulfill its artistic potential.
Few songwriters in Nashville have had as many lived experiences as JP Harris. He’s been a runaway, a train-hopper, a hitch-hiker, a farm worker, a carpenter, and more. Heck, the guy spent 12 years living in a remote Vermont cabin with no plumbing or electricity. JP Harris is a dadgum country song come to life. On his new Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing album, he brings many of those experiences to bear, from the tangible and existential challenges of touring in “JP’s Florida Blues #1” to the the tangible and existential challenges of train-hopping in “Jimmy’s Dead and Gone.”
With a quiver in his voice, Harris tells his tales framed variously as bluesy burners, honky-tonk shuffles, folk ditties, and country ballads, all of which feel plucked out of some bygone era rather than a millennial’s life. “Lady in the Spotlight,” for instance, recalls the late ’60s folk stylings Tim Hardin and Simon & Garfunkel. In it, Harris details the as-yet unrealized dreams of a small-town girl who moves to California in hopes of making it in a music business that prefers to focus on her looks rather than her work. While both the story and song may sound like they existed five decades ago, they are very much alive in the here and now of 2018’s country music world.
There’s a reason why Harris’s online presence can be found under the “I Love Honky-Tonk” moniker… because he truly, deeply loves country music. And he offers up blistering, bounding examples of that love in “JP’s Florida Blues #1,” “Hard Road,” and “Jimmy’s Dead and Gone,” with quieter, contemplative renderings in “When I Quit Drinking,” “Long Ways Back,” and “I Only Drink Alone.” Anyone who thinks that the outlaws are dead and “real” country music is gone needs to listen no further than this album to realize that simply isn’t true.
That’s not to say that Harris is trying to replace Haggard. He’s not. But he is — along with a bevy of others — helping keep the country music torch burning for a new generation. JP Harris and company may use more than three chords on Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, but he also used a whole lot of truth, because that’s who he is and what he does.