JP Harris Helps Revive the Country Tradition of Sharing the Stage
Of the many traditions of country music that have been trounced upon and forgotten in recent history, the culture of male country artists being complimented by women on stage is one of the most regrettable. Whether it was Dolly playing with Porter, Emmylou singing with Gram, or scores of other examples throughout country music’s storied past, the expressiveness and dimension a harmony singer brought to the music made the sounds and stories of country that much more compelling to both sexes. These important frontline appearances also helped feed a country music farm system from which future headliner talent could be cultivated.
There are many reasons why women have virtually disappeared from the radio charts and headliners slots of mainstream country music festivals recently, but one is the lack of women beside the men on stage or in song. Granted, for the past 42 weeks, the #1 song on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart has been due to Florida Georgia Line collaborating with pop star Bebe Rexha on the track “Meant To Be.” But far from addressing country music’s inability to mine talent, importing a pop star to promote the other side of the radio dial only exacerbates the issue.
There are exceptions to the rules governing mainstream country however. Eric Church deserves credit for sharing his spotlight with Valerie June, Rhiannon Giddens, and most recently (and to great results) Ashley McBryde recently. Even Jason Aldean did a service by adding Miranda Lambert on his recent, and surprisingly-decent single “Drowns The Whiskey.” But these are the outliers.
East Nashville honky tonker JP Harris is a victim himself of the skewed priorities of the current country music environment, struggling to secure a full-time touring career, booking construction jobs between shows and studio sessions to keep food on the table and creative control of his music. He may not be in some superior position to dole out attention to the struggling country artists in his local community. But it doesn’t mean he doesn’t try, and can’t at least help reverse the tide, or set a good example.
JP Harris is getting ready to release a new record on October 5th called Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing. On the album is a song called “Lady in the Spotlight” about the struggles many of country’s women face. JP Harris played an officially-sanctioned set at the 2018 AmericanFest in Nashville Saturday, September 15th at 3rd and Lindsley to help promote the album. As he’s often done in his career, he didn’t just bring one, but a cadre of country music women to compliment him on stage, including singer and songwriter Michaela Anne, who sat in with JP for the whole set behind an acoustic guitar and keys. Also joining him on stage was Kristina Murray, who just released a new record called Southern Ambrosia. He also had The Watson Twins join him on stage.
The next day JP Harris was the linchpin of an east Nashville music gathering called Sunday Morning Coming Down he co-sponsored with publicity agency Hearth Music and his label Free Dirt Records. His lineup included Kristina Murray and The Watson Twins again, songwriter Erin Rae who enjoyed The Secret Sisters sitting in with her, as well as SiriusXM Apron Strings DJ and should-be Grand Ole Opry member Elizabeth Cook. JP also shared his own set with Kristina Murray, Michaela Anne, and folk punk musician Sunny War.
A lot of folks love to talk a big game about supporting women. But this isn’t just about the optics and symbolism behind a popular subject. With country music’s roots in family bands and married couples singing together, and the duet being a essential part of the fabric of country music for generations, the collaboration of voices across the sexes is how country music created a universal appeal. By reviving this relationship of singers of the opposite sex, perhaps a more equitable equilibrium can also be achieved in the genre.
JP Harris prefers to sing with women because like it’s done for country artists across generations, it makes him sound better. It just happens to be that at the same time, JP Harris is also helping to create connections and name recognition for worthy artists from his community that are being overlooked by the mainstream.
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JP Harris’s ‘Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing’ is out October 5th. Kristina Murray’s ‘Southern Ambrosia’ is out now. Michaela Anne and The Watson Twins have new albums on the way soon.
September 24, 2018 @ 12:59 pm
He’s another one of those guys Rolling Stone calls “new” that’s been at it for at least the better part of a decade. New to them, maybe.
September 24, 2018 @ 1:47 pm
I’m not saying RS is the be all end all, but up here north of Detroit city, we don’t get a lot of real country anywhere. Radio sucks. I like this site (SCM) and occasionally RS will give a nugget. JP being one. I had never heard of him before and now he is in the top of my rotation. Gotta find out somewhere. Kristina Murray’s new album is awesome too, been on repeat all weekend.
September 24, 2018 @ 2:18 pm
I applaud Rolling Stone Country for featuring independent and up-and-coming artists. My only issue is labeling artists “new” simply to create a reason to talk about them. Along with JP Harris, they recently labeled Town Mountain “new,” who’ve been around for 11 years. Instead of grouping artists into arbitrary, and sometimes misleading lists and limiting their stories to short blurbs, zero in on them, tell their story, dig deep into the scene from which they come, and build emotional connections with the listener. It’s not always the best for clicks, but it is the best support you can give to an artist.
I wrote about this earlier this month:
October 7, 2018 @ 2:44 am
Rolling Stone doesn’t pay attention to anyone who doesn’t have a whole machine behind them… whatta they know?
speaking as a long ago subscriber to the rag too…
September 24, 2018 @ 2:24 pm
Completely of topic but…
Does anyone knows that this SnappyTV is. The audio is good,
And as I understand their whole concert was streamed. And because I never heard of this “SnappyTV ” I MISSED it!
September 24, 2018 @ 2:27 pm
JP actually released an EP on that subject, called “Why don’t we Duet in the Road” in 2017, featuring some of the finest female voices in Country, bringing back the glory of duets: Leigh Nash, Kelsey Waldon, Nikki Lane & Kristina Murray. Absolutely worth giving it a listening.
September 24, 2018 @ 2:57 pm
This is also off topic, but it’s something I’ve been curious about for a while. Why doesn’t SCM ever talk about the Drive-By Truckers? They are defined as alt-country/southern rock which surely falls under the realm of what SCM covers. They also released the “lost” album from the band’s original lineup on Friday and not even a word about it.
September 24, 2018 @ 4:24 pm
What Phil Oxford said below. They’ve been tagged on the site 21 times, so that’s quite a few mentions. Granted, much of that was correlated to Jason Isbell early on, but they certainly aren’t being ignored. I’m sure at some point there will be a full feature on them. One reason I decided to not review their last record is I didn’t know how to do it without the comments section turning into a political bloodbath.
September 25, 2018 @ 3:49 pm
Thanks for the clarification! I found it odd that there was not one article dedicated to DBT. I can definitely see why you wouldn’t want to review “American Band”. Political bloodbath indeed…
September 24, 2018 @ 6:19 pm
I’ll add … I don’t know what to do with Adam’s House Cat. I’m an old DBT fan, but I hate they re- recorded the vocals on this album. I would rather hear the original vocals. You got 30 yo old tracks with 50 year old’s vocals… what the fuck. I’m uncomfortable with that.
And like Phil Oxford mentioned, AHC is a rock album. REM is the primary influence.
I still love and spin Ganstabilly and Pizza Deliverance, but they evolved into the poster children of bland and confused Americana.
September 24, 2018 @ 3:53 pm
Important article, thanks Trig.
Bob, I’ll jump down the rabbit hole with you.
In short, they have been mentioned. Their influence on this area of music is indelible––maybe second only to folks like Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown/Ryan Adams, Lucinda, and Hank3. And at times that has been relevant to SCM. However, IMO there are two things that keep them just outside the current scope here:
1. While DBT definitely started out with some alt-country and Muscle Shoals influences, they are a full-on rock band (and, as can be heard on the Adam’s House Cat record, they pretty much always have been).
2. SCM is pretty recent. DBT was nearly unmatched 2000-2005, but personally I think their work since then has been not only a big step down relative to that former magic, but also just not very good in general.
They have definitely been mentioned. DBT did their part, and I will always love them for it. But there’s so much good music now (thanks partly to DBT), that it doesn’t make sense to feature a now-mediocre––if historically significant––rock band on a site about saving country music.
September 24, 2018 @ 3:54 pm
Oops, that should have been a reply to bob above 🙂
September 25, 2018 @ 3:55 pm
Thanks for the detailed answer! Well I don’t know about “full on” rock band, their recent (rather mediocre) releases still have plenty of alt-country influences. I mean I consider other Southern rock bands like Blackberry Smoke and Whiskey Myers to be more rock-oriented than DBT personally.
September 25, 2018 @ 4:52 pm
I’m looking forward to his new one.
September 25, 2018 @ 6:41 pm
I’m late to the Kristina Murray party, but the “Strong Blood” video has got me hooked enough to buy the cd. For me, it’s the production more than anything else. It sounds like now rather than “we just bought a raft of Strymon pedals and getting our money’s worth out of them, dammit.”
September 25, 2018 @ 7:42 pm
Folks love to talk about an artist’s voice, or songwriting, or charisma, or style, but an artist’s ability as a bandleader never gets the time I think it deserves. That’s where JP Harris truly shines for me. I’ve seen him a couple times now, and the band always sounds superb. There are some bands (Steve Earle’s comes to mind) that sound incredible, but also somewhat detached from the frontman. Clearly a backing band, even if they sound great. Not so with JP, they’re a unit. He’s had guests both times, and they also sounded fantastic. Go see him if y’all get a chance.
September 26, 2018 @ 6:11 am
Thanks for articles like this, Trig. JP Harris isn’t one that immediately jumps to mind when I think country, Americana, alt-country, or “saving country music,” but his body of work so far has been impressive. And even more impressive is his willingness to bring other artists, particularly females, to the stage and his recorded work like the duets EP released last year. It’s refreshing to see more collaborations and duets like this. I also want to say thanks for the reminder of JP’s album release next week, and thanks for turning me on to Kristina Murray’s ‘Southern Ambrosia’ – somehow I missed that one. Some hauntingly good songs and impeccable writing from her.