Review: Harrow Fair, “Sins We Made”

Harrow Fair - Sins We Made

The widely anticipated, long awaited, sophomore album from Americana-duo Harrow Fair is officially released today, and fans will be excited by this newest collection of songs. Those new to the duo will be enthralled by the writing and virtuosic interplay between bandmates Miranda Mulholland (vocals/violin) and Andrew Penner (vocals/guitars/drums/percussion). Written by the duo, the songs are musically complex, almost cinematic in scope and permeated with lyrics that tease and surprise. “Sins We Made”is often reminiscent of an eloquently crafted, yet ancient Japanese puzzle box; intricately designed with iridescent secrets sprinkled amid the soaring crescendos and delicate melodies. The questions remain long after the songs fade, asking, are these sins of delight or sins of destruction?   

Their debut “Call to Arms” album,released in late 2016, introduced the duo to worldwide audiences and marked the beginning of a band who quickly became a festival and concert favourite, marked by their thrilling, crowd pleasing, energetic performances. Harrow Fair combines the talents of two highly developed and artistically mature players who are well versed, not only in live music, but in theatre arts. Following the huge success of Mulholland’s 2019 solo album, “By Appointment Or Chance,” Harrow Fair has been teasing their followers with a string of singles from this new album for several months.  The title song, “Sins We Made,” was released to mainstream airplay in late January and provided some of the groundwork upon which the album is built thematically. That song uses the convention of a Medieval counting song to provide hints that perhaps each of the songs within the song cycle on this album are meant to be interpreted using some of the characters or icons outlined in that song – Queen of Spades, Gatekeeper’s Daughter, Rose of Sharon, but then again misdirection ascends to high art for the magician.

Each of the ten new songs offered here are bound to generate unique responses from every listener, but there are some touching moments that will clearly resonate for years to come. Particularly notable, for this reviewer, are two songs that left a lingering joy: “Seat at the Table” and “Dark Gets Close.”  The album on a whole has some specific production approaches that appear in several of the tunes – big drum sounds, gritty guitar, long violin flourishes, meld beneath the contrasted solo vocal parts and harmonies. Each of the songs have their own sound, but some share these common elements. “I Saw It In The Mail,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Shadow,” and “Sins We Made,” are brassy, bold productions which are bound to thrill audiences in live settings.  Others are playful such as “I Just Wanna,” or widescreen cinematic  “Shiloh.”

“Seat at the Table” invokes an atmosphere inherent in the timelessness of its Appalachian chord progression, and the tonality of the fiddle that seems to be reaching higher up into the smoky hills and distant skies. “I want a seat at the table / I want a garden to grow / Both hands on the harrow / I want a harvest to sow / When I lay down my burden /  And I join the noble chain / With breath and body parted / Still I’ll leave this sweet refrain.”  The song keeps lifting toward a final refrain in which both singers join a chorus in ascending mournful prayer. This is song for the age and for the ages.  In many ways, it brings the whole album together around its central theme  – what price do we pay for the sins we make? 

“Dark Gets Close,” the opening song on the album is filled with the recognition that hope, faith and courage shine, even in those moments that appear without virtue.  “Even when the future isn’t clear, even when the words all disappear / Just because you can’t remember hope starts here / No courage without fear / When I lay me down to sleep and memories stir awake.” This is an uplifting tune, with heartfelt and inspirational comments on the lessons learned and retained.

Of the many memorable moments to be enjoyed on“Sins We Made,” perhaps the song “I Just Wanna” sums up the attitude every traveller needs on this road to discovery.  “I don’t like these modern times /I don’t like the way they talk / I’m an old fashioned kind / But I can’t turn back the clock / So, I just wanna, I just wanna, I just wanna, I wanna Shoop Shoop / I wanna Shoop Shoop, I wanna Sham a Lama, Sham a Lam / I wanna Shoop Shoop, I wanna Shoop Shoop, I wanna Sham a Lama Ding Dong Baby with you.”           

Produced by Andrew Penner and mixed by James Bunton, this is an album of contrasts, commentary and spirited  investigation into the times we find ourselves so perilous in. “Sins We Made” was well worth the wait and promises to steadfastly hold its audience, who will want much more from this creative duo in the future.

Later today, at 5pm ET, (9pm GMT, 2pm PT) mix yourself your favorite drink and join Miranda and Andrew of Harrow Fair for an interactive Listening Party for their new album, “Sins We Made.” 

Harrow Fair Listening Party

Facebook Event Info:  https://www.facebook.com/events/256933102365332/

YouTube:  https://youtu.be/rwyT8Gd1ONA

Visit Harrow Fair’s website here.

Douglas McLean fell in love with music at a very early age and has worked as a musician and songwriter since his early teens. He has a deep love for the written word and has spent his life in pursuit of language as a means to convey what Van Morrison once called “the inarticulate speech of the heart”. He lives deep in the Almaguin Highlands with his wife and their dog. Douglas is active in local radio, recording, producing and writing, in and around Huntsville, Ontario.

His website is:
http://www.douglasmcleanmusic.com

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