Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Norah Jones writer lacks marquee value

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Norah Jones factor didn't help Jesse Harris Monday night.

Harris is the singer-songwriter who collaborated with Jones on her chart-topping CD Come Away With Me. His credits on the album include writing five songs, and he won a Grammy for the hit "Don't Know Why."

But the soccer moms and habitual VH1 viewers who helped make Come Away With Me a multi-platinum smash failed to show at Harris' tour stop at the 20th Century Theatre in Oakley. About 50 people turned out for the performance.

Harris didn't seem bothered by the small crowd. The New Yorker and his band the Ferdinandos just went about their business, delivering a low-key set that would have appealed not only to devotees of Jones' jazz-vocal pop but to fans of sensitive-guy singer-songwriter music.

Harris operated mainly in the latter genre, and he wasn't out to break new ground. The bulk of his 80-minute set was slow and quiet, sad and dreamy - songs about relationships, of the failed and unfulfilled varieties. Harris strummed acoustic guitar, and his voice and phrasing recalled 1970s-era Paul Simon doing a ballad.

The Ferdinandos - drummer Dan Reiser, guitarist Tony Scherr and bassist Tim Luntzel - included Come Away with Me alumni. Reiser brought the same wispy and looping brushwork to the mix. Scherr's slide playing and jangle-guitar leads directed the music towards a more rootsy vibe, punctuated by a version of Neil Young's "Mellow My Mind."

The set (which included several songs from Harris' latest album The Secret Sun plus several numbers he said were brand new) didn't pick up the tempo until the end, and the fast-rocking Harris isn't much more engaging than the slow, introspective one.

He did one of his Come Away With Me compositions, "I've Got to See You Again," early in the set. But a request from the audience for "Don't Know Why" during the encore was met with a response from Harris of: "We're not gonna play that one."

An equally mellow but much more stunning set was turned in by openers Eastmountainsouth, the duo of Kat Maslich and Peter Adams joined on this night by one-name drummer Quinn. Their sparse folk tunes had a timeless feel, and Maslich's voice is one of the prettiest in Americana.


E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com

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