Life is like a fish, that’s very hard to spear
– Harry James Angus, from Singapore
Flying too far under the radar for my liking – Harry James Angus’ 2011 solo album Short Stories is an absolute gem. So that’s why, nearly three or so years later I want to raise my glass to this musical chameleon.
Playing lead trumpet in The Cat Empire, he inspired big-band players like myself in high-school to believe that the whole jazz thing wasn’t dead. However, this album is a about as different from the Latin, Jazz and Reggae infused Cat Empire back-catalog, as Miley Cirus was pre and post her V.M.A. wardrobe malfunction / re-branding.
Repeating and perfecting much of the material off his debut live solo 2008 album Live at the Famous Spiegeltent, Harry has developed his own voice, and distinctive style. The album features eleven of his original compositions – each a Short Story – that seem to reflect a part of Harry’s broad styles and influences.
Musically, Harry keeps the things interesting – adding drums (Jules Pascoe) and bass (Rory Macdougall) on occasion , to tastefully compliment his finger-picking skills. Each track has its own distinctive feel, ranging from sentimental balladry on Daddy’s Millions and The River Queen to rollicking sea-shanty-esque story telling in Underground and The Batsman.
Like any good lyricist, even his more farcical songs – Underground, My Boring Life and The Batsman – have elements of universal truth, hidden beneath the sometimes absurd subject material. “I used to think that I would write a song that saved the world / Now I think I couldn’t give a shit /All my plans and papers in the wind / All my furniture is fresh and new from Sweden”
However, unlike some of the pin-up folk bands of late, where all you had to do was grow a beard, pick up a banjo, and dress like you just fought in the Civil War – Little Stories is more understated. Harry remains focused on simply telling a good story, with clear melodies, and an honest lyrical voice.
In my favourite song on the album, The Banker, Harry sings of a businessman with warmth and beauty, perhaps in spite of their clinical and financial work – “I know I was put on this earth / To change pounds into dollars and yen, and back again / I guess that I miss you, but we’ll meet again”, and “Sometimes I get homesick when I go to bed / And when I can’t sleep / I turn on my screen / And the numbers flicker like fairy dust.”
Perfect for any corporate worker, such as myself, to listen to on the journey from the train to the office door and feel – ‘yeah, despite the fact I work for some multi-national corporation, I too do have a soul’ – all before neatly packing away the iPod and being welcomed by the open-plan office soundscapes.
We can only hope that Harry James Angus has some more stories to tell.