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Harrison Country

Laugh a little, cry a little, think a little, get the groove and sing along. That’s what you’ll do when you take a trip to Harrison Country. You might find yourself out with the girls on Saturday night, hoping all those Mr. Wrongs will finally turn into Mr. Rights. Or laughing with a dad as he tries to referee the never-ending insult contest between his two teenage daughters. You’ll meet a man who can’t believe that the key to a woman’s heart is her nail-polish color, and a woman who wishes that all her dreams hadn’t come true. Sometimes you’ll think you’re in a church on a country road in Tennessee, sometimes you’ll feel like you’re strutting down Bourbon St., and sometimes you’ll think you’re watching a musical comedy on Broadway. And no matter where you find yourself, you'll never be too far from the Chesapeake Bay and its winding tributaries. 

Men in the HouseChicken Fighting Girls and Pick Your Poison are the first releases from their debut album, Coffee Black, Whiskey Straight. The Harrison family – Don, Karen, Jennie and Amy -- backed by the stellar musicianship and arrangements of Bryan Ewald and Alexandra White, draw on the richest traditions of American popular music to bring you a unique sound that can only be heard in one place – Harrison Country.


The Backstory


    Since 1996 my friend Steve Willett has run Crosse Over Lacrosse, a lacrosse exchange program for 13-15 year old girls with the lacrosse community in the Manchester area of England.  One year we send a team over there to play and stay with an English family, and the next year they do the same.  I have been involved for many years and in 2005 went over as a coach.  Traditionally, Steve would always have a wrap-up party when the girls returned where they could exchange pictures.  That year I decided to take the digital pictures and game footage that we had and buy some software and make a video of the trip to show to the girls.


    What I had originally intended to be a simple slideshow evolved into a full length motion picture.  In 2007, when I went to do a second video, I had some pics of the girls in goofy crowns at Warwick Castle, trying on clothes in boutiques, etc. and thought:  “why don’t I get a karaoke version of Sharp Dressed Man, rewrite the lyrics and make it Sharp Dressed Girls, and get my daughters Amy and Jennie to sing it?”  My friend Steve Young had a recording studio in his basement, and one Sunday afternoon we went over and recorded the song.  (By the way of “you never can tell”, Jennie met Steve’s son Adam that day and is now Jennie Young.)


    Over the next few years, I rewrote lyrics to a number of other songs for subsequent videos.  Gradually, the whole family – Amy, Jennie, Karen and myself – got into the singing act.  Finally, a few years ago, I thought, “I’m writing all these lyrics to other people’s music, why not write the music too?”  Though I can’t really play an instrument (laborious note picking on a guitar and left-handed chords on a piano do not count) I taught myself to read music and gave myself a crash course in music theory.


    Once I had the lyrics and basic melody done for our first song, Men in the House, I contacted my talented musician friend Josh Chapman, who put me in touch with an even more talented musician, Bryan Ewald.  Bryan and I have been working on this for a while, trying to fit his performing schedule and my work schedule around our writing and recording sessions.  We’ve brought in many other great local musicians – Brandon Bartlett, Brad Kimes, Larry Byrne, Aidan Ewald, Lexi White -- and we are hoping to have the full CD, Coffee Black Whiskey Straight, done soon.


      At first glance, this may seem preposterous.  What’s a financial advisor doing writing songs?  But it’s not as ridiculous as you might think.  I was an English major in college, and had originally planned on being a writer.  I sang in a band when I was a teenager, and always seemed to have melodies dancing around in my head.  Up until now, the only outlet I had for them were nonsense songs for my girls when they were little. 


      Involving the whole family makes even more sense.  Amy won Christopher Newport University’s version of American Idol, Jennie was in a topflight a cappella group at Elon, and in our lacrosse video recording sessions, we discovered that Karen may have the best voice of all.


      Finally, why “21st Century American Folk Music?”  My favorite songs have always been story songs, songs like The Weight, Waiting on June, Dixie Chicken, Fortunate Son, Sympathy for the Devil, Hudson Commodore, What Was I Thinking?, Johnny B. Goode, Raised on Robbery, Big White Gate.    I love songs that have some meat on the bone, with characters and geography and dialogue and conflict, songs that open doors for you, that give you a glimpse of other worlds -- sometimes real, sometimes fanciful, sometimes comic.


      So it’s not surprising that I would write these kinds of songs. They’re peopled with the likes of thirty-year-old lost boys, a woman whose legs might be the cause of global warming, a teenage girl who asks her sister “if I’m so fat how come you fit in my jeans?”   They take place on a Civil War battlefield, “down the ocean”, in a man cave, at the opera.  And in the background you can hear the sound of calling geese, ring tones and lost laughter.


      My musical memory extends back more than a few years, from begging my mother to play Ring of Fire on the jukebox, to having the hair on the back of my neck rise up the first time I heard Levon Helm’s voice, to singing Sweet Baby James and The Bare Necessities to my daughters. It holds melodies and chords and rhythms from just about every American music tradition that you can imagine, so it’s only natural that sometimes our music sounds like it’s coming out of Nashville, sometimes the Mississippi Delta, sometimes Laurel Canyon, sometimes Bourbon St., and sometimes Broadway. 


       That’s our story.  I think it’s got a little meat on the bone.  Hell, maybe one day I’ll write a song about it.

                                                                                                                                       Don Harrison

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