The new album “Stoplight Moon” from Toronto folk rocker Kyp Harness, opens with “All I Need”. It’s a mellow country twanger that brings to mind Art Bergman fronting Blue Rodeo. On the track Harness sings “never been in with the in-crowd/ never knew what the special code was for/ I never got the secret handshake/ never got in on the ground floor.”
Harness has been creating music for several decades, won the respect of his peers but is not likely to be described as in with the in-crowd. Not many have heard of Harness and the way radio works in Canada not many will hear him. He has been called the songwriter’s songwriter. John Critchley, who produced "Stoplight Moon", covered "The Man in the Green Shirt" with his band, 13 Engines. Harness can count Daniel Lanois, Ron Sexsmith, Mary Margaret O’Hara and Townes Van Zant among his fans. Perhaps the tracks on "Stoplight Moon" will stop everyone in their tracks, will turn everyone on, perhaps Harness will take off, perhaps it doesn’t matter to him.
On “Still Learning” written about the birth of a child he sings “No I haven’t made much money and although it might seem funny but I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did.”
“It seems that music is my life, whether I want it to be or not,” Harness says in an email interview with SlowCity, “since even if at times in the outside world there's no music that's turning me on, I hear music in my head that I want to get out, or I think about things in musical ways, or I write a new song whether I want to or not. I guess it's such an integral part of my life, and sometimes the only part of my life that does seem alive, that it keeps me going. If I could stop it, sometimes I think I would. But then that'd be like giving up some essential part of who I am, or becoming a different person altogether.”
On Stoplight Moon, his 13th release, Harness puts the focus on the essential parts of himself: on love with “Anniversary” and the aforementioned, “All I Need”; on spirituality, “Where The Spirit Resides” and loss on “Miss You When You Go”. Harness delivers it all in a drawl stretching between Dylan and Lou Reed and a musical style seeped in the sounds of his adopted city (he’s from Sarnia, ON. originally)
Over the course of the album a particular Toronto-centric sound emerges; the melodic alt-country of Jason Collett, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, Ron Sexsmith, Jerry Leger is present but also the Queen St. cowbilly of Handsome Ned on “Restaurant of Love" and The Sadies or Daniel Romano on the album’s best track, “I Hurt”.
Carried by sliding steel and incisor sharp biting lyrics, “I Hurt” tracks unhealed familial issues, pain passed from father to son but the song can also be used as a warning against unhealed social issues, not just personal one. A leader’s anger can be misdirected as much as a parent, a nation can elect a hyperbolic bully to be their strong man because they feel so weak inside themselves. Pain is passed victim to victim like a flag.
“As I look around and see a world that’s shattered and it’s shaken, on the verge/ with one thought on everybody’s mind 'I hurt because I hurt'.”
Harness could feel hurt by an industry interested in pushing fakery over artistry enough to give up and walk away. He says he has considered quitting recording and performing but music is what he does and in a way what he is.
“The business side of the music business is not too fun and can often dampen your enthusiasm,” Harness says, “and often it seems like the 'professional' side of the business is filled with people who are only doing it for money. So you get music that sounds like it was only done for money; where the real, true stuff that means something to people, I believe, was created by people for whom it meant the world to create it and is an essential part of themselves.”
On this album Harness has created something essential. But an artist can only make, ultimately it’s up to you to decide if "Stoplight Moon" will get Harness his day in the sun. To quote Harness quoting Faye Dunaway quoting an acting teacher she once had, “If something can stop you ..........let it!.” Stop in your tracks for "Stoplight Moon".