Gordon Haskell

Harry's Bar

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Harry's Bar was an enormous breakthrough album for Gordon Haskell, thanks to the unexpected U.K. success of the single "How Wonderful You Are." European audiences were so charmed by that catchy little ballad that the virtually unknown industry veteran suddenly hit the British Top Ten, attracted major label attention and joined Ani DiFranco and David Gray among the happy few Internet-era indie heroes to have conquered the pop world with self-released records. It's particularly astounding that after ten years of solo recordings, it was this threadbare folk-jazz record -- made for less than £200! -- that made Haskell an overnight household name in the U.K. Yet it is that very simplicity that makes "How Wonderful You Are" so irresistible. The arrangement consists of an elementary acoustic guitar chord progression played at a slow-dance tempo and backed gently with a little bass and saxophone. The lyrics are simplistic to a fault, and the melody is no more complicated. The song would probably have been thoroughly unremarkable if it weren't for the compellingly authentic cool of Haskell's vocals. Relaxed, self-assured, and smooth as silk, Haskell dresses like Johnny Cash and sings like a perfectly modulated blend of Kenny Rogers, Marvin Gaye, and (somehow) Nina Simone...all without the slightest hint of affectation. Throughout Harry's Bar, Haskell combines organic folk instrumentation with mellow jazz fluidity and a hint of R&B sass. It's bewitching as long as he keeps it simple. Whenever he gets more energetic ("Voodoo Dance") or emotionally expansive ("There Goes My Heart Again"), the spell is broken and the limitations of his often clichéd songwriting become clear. But so long as he keeps it real, Haskell keeps you hooked.

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