2019 has been all about breakthroughs for established artists, but few that I’ve examined have evolved as much as Leo Harmonay has in his new record Naked Rivers. In songs like “Contour,” Harmonay focuses our attention towards the relationship between his smoky vocal and the tense melodic backdrop created by a fleeting guitar part’s yearning. Other tracks like the Enlia-led “Lost Summer” and the frustrated “Lucky Guess” are a little more detailed, requiring us to listen closely to fully appreciate the sonic depth of both the instrumentation and the vocal virtuosities. There’s no stepping away from this tracklist once you get started, but those who have been listening to Leo Harmonay’s work since the beginning will have already come to expect as much out of an LP bearing his moniker.
Other than the singing that fills us with our leading man’s emotions every time we hear it in Naked Rivers, the most important component in this album is the guitar, which forms its own narrative in songs like “Labor Day,” “The Ballad of the Unknown River Driver,” “Patterns” and the title track. It’s got as unique and dexterous a method of communiqué as Harmonay does with the microphone in his hand, and there are even a few tracks (like “Patterns”) where the colorful tones of the strings make it a little easier for us to digest the lofty lyrical metaphors that are a staple of this LP’s most daring compositions. He’s made some highbrow content before this, but Naked Rivers is definitely an intellectual notch above the other records in Harmonay’s discography.
There’s a really progressive feel to this tracklist, and it’s only partly because of the way that the guitars flow into each other without ever skipping a step. To some degree, Leo Harmonay is spinning a yarn that is ten songs-long in Naked Rivers; though it’s not a straight up concept album, all of these tracks tend to rely on a similarly self-aware premise that is broken down more and more as we get deeper into the LP. What we start off with in “Patterns” and “Labor Day” takes us through the commentarial “Contours” and cutting “Broken Cup” with a different perspective than we would have had otherwise, and by the time we wrap things up in the title track and “You and the Sun,” it’s as though we’ve spent the last 47 minutes in heavy conversation with an old friend.
Leo Harmonay has never disappointed me in the past, but his last couple of albums pale in comparison to the affectual impact that Naked Rivers could have if it finds its true audience this August. This is no-filler folk with the heart and soul of an Americana LP beneath all of the intimate lyricism, and for a generation that seemingly can’t get enough of both, this makes its ten songs prime fodder for the playlists of discriminating millennial roots music fans around the country. I’m interested in hearing how he follows-up on this most recent selection of songs, because if it’s anything like this collection, Harmonay’s status in the industry is going to switch from indie to mainstream a lot sooner than later.