JP Harris modestly describes himself as a carpenter who writes country songs. On his third album, Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, he has indeed carved an excellent benchmark by which the remainder of this year’s releases should be measured. A colourful (and heavily tattooed) character, Harris has lived an itinerant life since leaving eighth grade class in Alabama, riding the rails and hitching lifts for a decade or so picking up labouring jobs for a spell and then moving on. This lifestyle informs several of his songs which he delivers with a raw authenticity whether they be hard driving honky tonkers or gritty ballads and on this album he even tackles some sweet Nashville countrypolitan sounds.
The album opens with the flat out pedal to the metal rocker, JP’s Florida Blues #1. Fuelled by some barrelling organ and fiery slide guitar the songs soars from the outset and with its female harmonies adding a southern swell to the ride this is like The Allmans’ on amphetamines. Anyone who has seen one of Harris’ incendiary live shows will know what to expect here and he delivers more hard drivin’ country on the truckin’ Hard Road which features some tightly coiled guitar and pedal steel licks while Jimmy’s Dead and Gone starts off in hard scrabble skiffle fashion before the band weigh in like a runaway locomotive as Harris turns in the best hobo train song in a long long time. Thrilling stuff indeed but Harris spends more time on the album showing us that he can rein it in and wax poetic in more delicate fashion.
Lady in the Spotlight is the tale of a disillusioned would be starlet that with its rippling guitars and folky melody could have been penned by Shel Silverstein or Tom T. Hall. Runaway meanwhile is a red dirt country slope with some fine Dobro playing as Harris inhabits similar territory as the late Guy Clark and to his credit stakes a fine claim regarding his right to be there adding the next song, Miss Jeanne-Marie, another plaintive ballad in similar fashion, just to be sure. In addition, Harris shows that he can rival Joshua Hedley in the drinking and sinking Nashville sad song category with the excellent pairing of When I Quit Drinking and I Only Drink Alone. Meanwhile the limpid croon of Long Ways Back with its satin smooth guitar is just superb and it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t written by Willie Nelson.
The album’s curious title comes from the delightful homily of the same name which has Harris posing a series of questions the answer to all seemingly just because they can. A brief song featuring only acoustic guitar and Dobro it’s a fine distillation of Harris’ writing and singing talents which is nestled within an excellent set of songs making up what is essentially a fantastic album.