Jesse Harris

Music for Chameleons

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Singer/songwriter Jesse Harris has carved out his own introspective niche in the modern music scene, nestling in between the languid, rootsy jazz of original cohort Norah Jones and the avant-garde guitar noodlings of occasional colleague Marc Ribot. While he's earned his place as a solo performer, he's arguably best when he collaborates with like-minded artists, as on his previous album, 2016's Seemed Like a Good Idea. An inspired duo recording with singer/violinist Petra Haden, it found him sweetening up his often flat, understated tendencies with Haden's bright vocal presence. Conversely, on 2017's Music for Chameleons, Harris returns to the low-key vibe with an album of jazz-inflected, coffeehouse-friendly folk. Joining Harris this time are members of Star Rover (who appeared on 2015's No Wrong No Right), as well as bassist Jason Lader and Maroon 5 keyboardist/guitarist Jesse Carmichael. Needless to say, he put together a superb backing ensemble, and for longtime Harris fans there is plenty to enjoy here. Cuts like the loungey "On My Way Back," the twangy "A Matter of Time," and the organ-steeped, reggae-ish "You Don't Have to Be Alone" showcase Harris' knack for woody, organic sounds and enveloping melodies. Nonetheless, with his hushed vocal delivery and penchant for song structures that rely heavily on pleasantly strummed or arpeggiated guitar intros, many of the songs on Music for Chameleons have a samey quality. There are several high points, including his hypnotically buoyant, orchestral-tinged instrumental "Everybody Thinks You're a Movie Star," which coincidentally features wordless vocals from Haden. Similarly, Harris reveals his talent for writing poignant, inner-directed anthems like "Neither Old Nor Young" and the yearning, nervy "I Always Thought the World Would Catch Your Fall." However, on Music for Chameleons, Harris more often lives up to his album's title and blends all too well into the tastefully arranged background.

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