Harry James, Harried  
Harry James
Harried
TIP  
USA 1xLP 
Label: Potions Music
Release Year: 2022
Style: Funk & Soul
 
  Tracks  
  A1 Harried
A2 Royal Robes Of Roe
A3 Stutter
A4 Duffel From The Don
A5 Boogie Bored
A6 Grand Marquis
A7 Dear Edgar Miller,
B1 The Diminisher
B2 Romancing The Stoned
B3 Light In The Lizard
B4 Lily Pad
B5 Tiny Steps
B6 Elmore
B7 Heart Strings
 
  Just a year after the release of his solo debut, Harry James Brenner Jr. is back with his
sophomore effort, Harried. Blending elements of jazz, hip-hop,
ambient, and R&B, Brenner’s latest work is a natural progression of the style and themes
established on 2021’s Buy the Numbers, adding fresh dimension to his sound while affirming his
steadfast personal vision.

Harried bears the same core approach as its predecessor — succinct, self-recorded themes built
on overlaid lines and intricate rhythms — but its 14 tracks reflect a marked evolution in
Brenner’s craft and methods. Notably, the album finds his role shifting from sole performer to
arranger and collaborator: where Buy the Numbers saw Brenner handle all instrumentation
himself, Harried gathers contributions from a stellar cast of musicians drawn from Chicago’s
jazz and experimental scenes, including Keefe Jackson, Dave McDonnell, Gerald Bailey, Hope
Arthur, and Bill MacKay. This expanded palette brings new levels of texture and depth to
Brenner’s compositions, with his distinctive piano runs and percussive flourishes now in
dialogue with instruments ranging from flugelbone (“Royal Robes of Roe”) and saxophone
(“The Diminisher”) to thumb piano and hand drums (“Lily Pad”). At the same time, we hear
Brenner branching out in his own playing, layering deep synthesizer washes on the title track,
exploring polyrhythmic cycles on “Boogie Bored,” and forgoing percussion altogether on “Dear
Edgar Miller.” With nods to influences like Sun Ra, Mulatu Astatke, and Yesterday’s New
Quintet, the songs vary in their tempo and timbre but share an overarching sense of handmade
intimacy, the results at once evocative and forward-thinking, searching and deliberate, raw and
refined.

The album culminates with “Heart Strings,” a track co-penned twenty years prior by Brenner’s
friend and former bandmate Dan Jugle, who passed away in 2018. In many ways, the track is an
outlier: a note-for-note recreation of the song’s original bedroom demo, here we find Brenner
working within a conventional pop structure, augmenting his steady kit work with accordion
and acoustic guitar and, for the first time, contributing lead vocals. Part celebration, part
memorial, “Heart Strings” stands apart in its execution but ultimately dovetails in its effect,
deftly embodying the emotional themes that have driven Brenner’s solo work to date. Like his
debut, Harried is anchored in notions of remembrance, healing, and personal history; as
conveyed through both its title and sonic treatment, the record finds its author reflecting on
the passage of time, the burden of loss, and prospect of finding renewal in its wake. Using his
music to explore the porous boundary between the known past and future possibility, Brenner
invites his listeners to arrive at a similarly open and unbound state, coaxing subtle introspection
and spirited release in equal measure along the way.

-Christopher Schreck
 
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