Martin Harley on Coffeehouse

Martin Harley’s life has been one full of travel and adventure, and it comes across through his music. Harley has not only biked 1,200 miles in thirty one days to play twenty seven shows, he has also set the Guinness World Record for theHighest Gig in the World, 21,000 feet up in the Himalayas. Harley, a blues musician and expert on the slide guitar, certainly has a lot to brag about, but when he visited the WERS studio he was very easy going and polite. He arrived with a cup of tea and a guitar case covered in colorful stickers from his travels, and after a few minutes of warming up was ready to perform.

Harley, who hails from England, released his fifth album in September, titled Mojo Fix. This album is a bit different from what fans might remember of Harley’s previous releases. He explained that this was the first time he had not recorded an album live with his band, but that this allowed him to be more experimental. As a result, Mojo Fix has a bigger, noisier sound with more layering of guitar parts. Harley describes the process as a “try anything, do anything” experience, and it paid off.

His first song was “When I Go,” a blues song that Harley described as “a cowboy on the run.” Full of twanging notes and dramatic tempo changes, the imagery in this song was definitely reminiscent of an old-time cowboy journeying through the wild west. Harley plays on a weissenborn, a silly name for a very cool instrument. A weissenborn is a brand of slide guitar which is played sitting on the lap of the musician. Though not every listener will be familiar with slide guitar, anybody can tell Harley is a master. He produces a full, complex sound that fills the room and commands your attention. When asked about how he started playing the weisenborn, he of course had a story about another adventure. He explained that when he lived in a car in Australia for a year the warm weather damaged his traditional guitar, while a slide guitar was better suited for traveling distances.

Next he played “Cardboard King,” a gentler track off the new album. Harley’s voice is consistently powerful, but this song gave him a chance to show off his softer side. It speaks to Harley’s talent how easily he can connect with his audience no matter the style of music. His voice was full of emotion as he sang about a King whose castle of cards is toppling over. This song has lots of potential to connect with a wide variety of audiences.

Last was “Mojo Fix,” the title track off the album. All the songs Harley played were impressive, but this stood out as a must-listen. The tune feels dangerous and dark, with lyrics like “She got a pistol/she got a black tattoo/you know I feel uneasy just sittin’ in this room” and “I’m drinking poison from a broken cup.” Yet despite the sinister feel, the song is just plain fun to listen to. The chorus is slightly evocative of the famous guitar line in Jack White’s “Seven Nation Army”, if Jack White became a rough cowboy who went out into the desert with a slide guitar.

If you like an adventure, Martin Harley has the soundtrack for you. His band plans to go on tour again in March of 2013, and knowing Harley, he has lots of adventure planned for the road ahead.

By Mary Kennedy
Photo by Lauren Moquin

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