All Music Guide August 24 2007
Psyche van het folk August 31 2007
Paper Thin Walls September 4 2007
Dusted Magazine October 4 2007
Skyscraper Magazine October 2007
Tiny Mix Tapes October 25 2007
Daily Copper October 25 2007
Exclaim Magazine November 2007
Harp Magazine December 2007
Can You See The Sunset April 2008
REVIEWS IN OTHER LANGUAGES (LINKS)
On Harris Newman's third solo album with Strange Attractors, the Canadian guitarist makes what might be his most distinct effort yet, having come from an understandable realm of John Fahey and Robbie Basho worship to make his own contemplative mark on the field. (That said Newman still honors the spirit of Fahey well with his puckish song titles, including "The Malarial Two-Step" and "Blues for Vilhelm.") Beginning with the dramatic "Our Cavalcade of Sightless Riders," a softly murky start moving into a quickly rolling flow that's pure atmosphere of the best kind, seeming to rise and fall like waves or a road up and down hills, Decorated is the kind of good solo acoustic guitar album that works under both close attention and as evocative ambient music. Newman's ever-more-evident skills and creativity suit him well track for track, whether it's on the series of delicate runs at the heart of "Anamnesis" or the enjoyable rollick of "Opera House Stomp," a collaboration with drummer Eric Craven. "Blues for Vilhelm" is Newman at his most experimental, embracing electronic drone in a way that sounds like early eighties Glenn Branca having exchanged rhythmic obsession for sheer strung-out howl, while the closing "A Quarter to Call the Ambulance" extends that idea in further ways, with a series of rising, siren-like moans ending the album on a note of unsettled dread.
— Ned Raggett
Psyche van het folk
Harris Newman proves once more how brilliant and captivating guitar music can be. The first three tracks are taken together. The first track quickly leads the listener to hypnotic spinning wheel rhythmic excursions and varied worlds. The tensions are speeded up until it calms down again to is essence. This more sound like a western typed raga, with sections of ambition (the speeding up tension) and an inner control of the situation (the resume). The most melodic theme returns once more in full ornamental beauty. Then we’re taken to a different variation of the ride. The themes become then bluesy-moody and then more like a flamenco-energetic ride. It is a triple track alone worth taking a “hear journey ticket” to experience. “The malarial two step” is a two-step rhythmic melody, a brilliant and skilled rhythmic variation of pickings with a melody flooding smoothly on top it. “Blues For Vilhelm” is a different track, using experimental amplified slides, droning and pitched strings. This leads nicely on “Golden Valley as seen from the east” to another brilliant track. It inhabits an odd, vivid, almost singing variation of melodic pickings, which consists of a complex combination of themes in bass, pitches, and middle melody, as if a few instruments at once communicate and interact with one another. This thoroughly and slightly melts together directed by a one point minded drive, while keeping each part as separately participating entities, as if each finger of Harris Newman has its own will and contribution with its own character. This is something I only heard with the most gifted guitar masters. “We return to black wolf mountain” has more a semi-eastern hypnotic feeling. Last two tracks takes us to a last and once more different section. “Opera House Stomp” more is like a rock track, a repeated tremolo riff with drums by Eric Craven, and just seemingly also electric bass, a variation of the directions of some independent post-rock bands with good guitarists (like Gastr del Sol or Cul De Sac,…). This is easily concluded with a small improvisation called “a quarter to call the ambulance”. Here it is as if something of the previous track, in its shadow, is stretched in length and in slow motion and is taken to a new exploration. Another future classic from one the new guitar gods, who for his talent is part of the already interesting new guitar scene.
— Gerald Van Waes
Paper Thin Walls (single review)
Harris Newman, a steel-string picker in the vein of John Fahey or, more recently, Jack Rose, understands momentum, understands that simply demonstrating one’s deftness with a fretboard may leave the listener impressed but less than sated. On third album Decorated, he lets sheets of notes fall, in their movement summoning up landscapes touched by wind and motion. The title track begins slowly, tense strings plucked like something cinematic; from there, Newman goes to work, filling the spaces left by the sparse first minute. By the third minute, he’s running two parts in parallel, increasingly paranoid chords with a stark counterpoint. There’s a cinematic arc to it, but it’s a skewed one; late-’80s Lynchian, the repressed struggling for the surface and then confined, at least temporarily. It’s also a literal title track: like one of William T. Vollmann’s stories in The Atlas, “Decorated” echoes Decorated in miniature in its technical proficiency and thematic resonance.
— Tobias Carroll
The title of Canadian guitarist Harris Newman’s fourth solo record raises a question or two. Who or what has been decorated, and how? Since it was mostly recorded — with admirable presence — using one guitar, a couple microphones, and a minimum of overdubs, I don’t think he’s referring to the recording process itself.
Perhaps he’s drawing attention to the places where the strike of picks on strings are as present as the actual ringing of the notes, such as the swirl of reverberation that wraps around his lap steel flourishes on “Blues for Vilhelm” and the low-flying slide swoops on “I Need a Quarter to Call the Ambulance?” Or maybe he’s acknowledging the vibrant racket that radiates outward from the gnarled churn that he and drummer Eric Craven whip up on the record’s sole electric rock number, “Thee Opera House Stomp?”
The title track brings to mind a more subtle yet essential decoration. On that, and several other tracks, Newman’s composing sounds like it has been dictated by the need to limit elaboration to whatever he can work into his picking patterns in real time without tripping them up.
His website bears the legend “Neurotic fingerstyle guitar,” and it’s an apt description. It also implies the effect a single error can have – his tightly wound, accelerating figures spiral inward, as tense and reiterative as a conversation about serial numbers with an OCD-suffering record collector; one wrongly-placed note and it could all fall apart. So it’s the deliberately simple decoration and thoughtful elaboration of a piece like “The Malarial Two-Step” (not neurotic in the least) that makes it so involving and inviting.
— Bill Meyer
Canadian acoustic guitarist Harris Newman creates instrumental music that operates as environmental and ambient soundscapes, but also conceives work that can be scrutinized with close attention. It's a delicate equilibrium that Newman continues to explore on Decorated, his third solo release of steel-string guitar music. Unlike others influenced by the American Primitive Guitar school, Newman doesn't get lost in pleasant, quickly flowing fret runs. Certainly songs such as "Anamnesis" border on new age-ish territory similar to Michael Hedges.
But more often Newman traverses the same dissonant path that John Fahey and Sandy Bull championed, particularly on the tense, nervous title track, the electronically droning "Blues for Vilhelm,", and the double-rhythm "The Malarial Two Step," which is filled with penetratingly assorted finger-picking. On the record's second half, which starts with "Blues for Vilhelm," Newman extends his improvisational ideas, embracing his experimental side. "Golden Valleys as Seen From the East" is a nine minute excursion recalling Jim O'Rourke's accomplishments, while cyclical post-rock piece "Thee Opera House Stomp" is ignited by Newman's argumentative electric guitar and Eric Craven's convincing drumming.
Decorated is a rare conception, an aural document both accessible and discordant, an album that intersects meditative sentiment and aberrant perception.
— Doug Simpson
Tiny Mix Tapes
You could easily — too easily, perhaps — cast Harris Newman’s split musical-personality as two sides of a Slint-ish coin. When this Montreal stalwart plays with Hrsta or mans the boards for groups like A Silver Mt. Zion and Fly Pan Am, he exorcises his demons through climactic walls of distortion, calling to mind the dense wail of Spiderland’s final minute. When he flies solo, Newman entertains those dark spirits by serenading them with skeletal lapsteel drones and hypnotic acoustic guitar dreamweaving of the Takoma school, channeling the creaky, tiptoeing repetition of Slint’s creepiest songs.
This comparison holds water — listen during "Anamnesis" to the guitar strings circle about like vampire fingers tracing your spine, and try in vain to avoid thinking of "Don, Aman." But Newman’s been slapped with enough RIYDs already; critics dismissed his previous albums as nice-enough Fahey/Lang/Basho redux. Time to slap the man on the back for coming into his own. Down a Boddingtons in honor of the title song, in which Newman dabbles in raga-like bends without sounding too culture-vulture for his own good. And pay careful attention to "Opera House Stomp" and "A Quarter to Call the Ambulance," two places where our man flips the script by giving us more tension and texture than we expect from one-dude instrumental albums. This happens in the former track because he calls in another dude, Eric Craven, to pound the skins while he picks up an electric and fingertaps some mind-boggling math-blues; in the latter, Newman bounces rattling acoustic trills off of sustained drones, strings shaking and echoing like a bag of bones in a Kentucky cavern. Nice.
— P Funk
The Daily Copper
Harris Newman knows his John Fahey and Steffen Basho-Junghans; while he's treading on near-sacred ground for steel-string aficionados, the guitarist is more than up to the task, and he's willing to blur musical boundaries in the process. The title track of his CD Decorated is a wonderful conglomeration of playing styles - at turns bluesy, hypnotically drone-based, and filled with fiery, folksy finger-picking. Joined by drummer Eric Craven, Newman plays electric guitar on Thee Opera House Stomp;" the duo post-rock-out with abandon. On "Blues for Vilhelm," the guitarist makes some awesome sounds with a lapsteel instrument, creating an incantatory power drone excursion. There are some wonderful sounds and fascinating playing to be heard here.
— Christian Carey
Moody and beautiful, Decorated is a compelling collection of steel-string guitar explorations by Montreal’s Harris Newman. Best known for mastering albums by Montreal-based bands like Wolf Parade, Arcade Fire and Constellation Records artists, Newman himself is a musical force, contributing to Hrsta, Sackville and Triple Burner. This third solo album contains a powerful array of music, from meditative, Fahey-esque finger picking to swells of textured noise and avant-garde wanderlust. Newman begins with “Our Cavalcade of Sightless Riders,” a moody, shifting piece that eventually huffs its way into manic blues, and by “The Malarial Two-Step” there’s a good gust of wind in Newman’s sails. “Blues for Vilhelm” radically shifts the record, as a sheet of electric sound bellows forth, pulsating but intangible after the experimental precision of Newman’s acoustic fingering. That feel dips in and out again, however the most memorable moment features a downpour of electric guitar and drummer Eric Craven on “Opera House Stomp.” Dense and intricate, Decorated is a masterful display.
— Vish Khanna
The third album by this Montreal steel string guitarist is another great, mostly solo, affair. Like some of the other players on this label’s roster, Newman is a devotee of his instrument’s more esoteric pathways and he stays far away from standard folk motion. His work is a modernist collage of traditional styles with insertions of avant-garde modalities when it seems appropriate. His playing is forceful; his compositions are lovely. Harris is joined by drummer Eric Craven for one track, “Opera House Stomp,” which allows him to assemble a faux combo for some very fine multitracked instrumental interactions. Hats off for Harris.
— Byron Coley
Can You See The Sunset
Despite the title of Canadian acoustic guitarist Harris Newman’s third album Decorated there isn’t much extraneous ornamentation or decoration aside from Newman’s own guitar. It is a great (and mostly solo) exploration of hypnotic steel-string modalities that walk the line between improvisational avant-garde meandering and pleasantly captivating nearly new age folk-isms. His wonderfully fingerpicked runs ebb and flow like the water of a cold clear stream cascading over exposed rocks on its way into something larger. It is beautiful but unsettling and filled with a tension that seems like it could break or spiral out of control at almost any minute. Mostly in the same realm as guys like Jack Rose or John Fahey, but on tracks such as “Blues for Vilhelm” find Newman playing with experimental dronescapes and even adding a drummer on the electrified “Opera House Stomp.” Decorated resonates with me and works in both the foreground and background. Great stuff.