Considering he only plays a handful of shows annually in his adopted hometown of Nashville and does not tour regularly, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to see Lonesome Highway favourite JP Harris & The Tough Choices for the fifth time in three months, when he performed a blistering set at Nice 'N' Sleazy on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, preceded by an acoustic set earlier that afternoon at Celtic Music Radio Station at Admiral Street. The previous occasions to witness Harris live were at Americana Fest in Nashville, where he played at 3rd & Lindsley, Robert's Western World and Sunday Coming Down at Gallatin Avenue, East Nashville. The latter was an all-day event organised by JP, featuring a number a artists, a spectacular and fitting end to the festival.
The personnel in The Tough Choices is very much a moving target and his touring band on this current trip around Europe are entirely different, but no less talented, than the musicians he had backing him in Nashville. The afternoon acoustic set was a pre-recorded interview and performance for Mike Ritchie’s weekly Sunday afternoon radio show on Celtic Music Radio. The set found Harris joined by his touring guitarist and they performed three songs (J.P.’s Florida Blues #1, Long Ways Back and When I Quit Drinking), all from his recently released album Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing.
Mike Ritchie’s interview with the engaging and extremely articulate Harris, included him revisiting his teenage years, his life experience since relocating in Nashville, his continuing support for female artists in the industry – he consistently includes female artists in his band, on this tour Nashville neighbour Miss Tess plays bass in his band together with preforming as an opening act - and an in-depth insight into the recording of his latest album. Harris explained that the album was produced by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Morgan Jahnig and the production was quite unorthodox by Nashville standards. The selected musicians to perform on the album came into the studio, having been given the skeleton of the tracks to consider a few days previously, with the instruction not to confer or discuss them with each other before recording. It's fair to say that the methods adopted were a qualified success and the six songs selected from the album to perform later that evening at Nice 'N' Sleazy sounded splendid in the live setting.
With a five-piece band of pedal steel (and occasional keys), bass, drums and guitars, Harris and his buddies took advantage of the excellent sound, lighting and indeed smoke machine at Nice N Sleazy, to deliver a killer seventeen song set. Kicking off and closing with the only two covers on the set list - the opener was David Allan Coe’s California Turnarounds and the encore a rousing version of Jerry Reed’s Freeborn Man– Harris and his cohorts raced through a free-flowing catalogue of songs that never lost steam. Sparks flew for up-tempo numbers Two For The Road, Gear Jammin’ Daddy, JP’s Florida Blues #1 and Hard Road, complimented by some equally impressive country ballads such as Maria, I Only Drink Alone, Lady In The Spotlight and Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, the slower numbers all performed to pin drop silence. The road tight band were a joy to behold, with note perfect bass, drums and lead guitar, together with cracking pedal steel, supporting JP’s luxurious lead baritone vocals.
In a market overflowing with plastic and industry manufactured acts masquerading as country artists, it’s a thrill to witness a genuine artist playing real country music with such a talented bunch of musicians and noticeably enjoying himself on stage as much as we were offstage. Make no mistake, Harris is the real deal and if you get the opportunity to catch him and his Tough Choices on the road, don’t pass it up.
Thumbs up also to support act Miss Tess who, together with her band mate and co-producer Thomas Bryan Eaton, played a storming opening set featuring material from her album Baby, We All Know, before they both reappeared on stage as members of The Tough Choices.
Review and photographs by Declan Culliton