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Lauren Harris: Calm Before the Storm

By Shelly Harris, Chicago Contributor
Monday, June 23, 2008 @ 4:44 PM


On Demolition Records

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The apt metaphor evoked by the title of Lauren Harris’s debut CD, Calm Before the Storm, is seemingly a bold self-declaration of her career hopes and expectations. And, notably, there are elements of that very same gutsy-ness reflected in both the attitude in the delivery of the songs on this disk, as well as in the musical muscle that underpins them.

To borrow another cliché, Lauren Harris is actually the artistic embodiment of “the iron fist in the velvet glove.” (No pun intended, though, as all metal-heads know by now, her father is Steve Harris, the cornerstone and fearless leader of Iron Maiden.)

That said, Calm Before the Storm is almost too much of a stylistic mixed bag (as is often the case for artists who are young in years, regardless of career length). It also has clear earmarks on some levels of a person searching for – though distinctly inching closer to finding – her own unique identity, and artistic voice and vision.

But there’s also real talent a-brewing here: Harris has interpretive vocal depth – developed on the more recently recorded numbers – that transcends her current claim to fame as a diminutive knockout with well-honed stage presence and an extraordinarily supportive metal-legend dad.

In truth, the latter is an obvious double-edged sword, as it at once gives Lauren Harris instant name recognition, but also tends to conjure cynical stereotypes (naming no names) and green-eyed nepotism indictments that may tend to cloud a broader level of objective open-mindedness to this artistic first step.

That said, it is unlikely that Lauren Harris will ever be defined as a heavy metal artist, even in the broadest definition of the genre. So, this disk must be examined on the merits of what it is: a fusion and evolution from pop/punk to mainstream chick-fronted, straight-ahead rock (and nothing’s wrong with that).

Moreover, Lauren Harris does have an “iron fist” aspect (alluded to at the top) that goes beyond the real courage it takes to play in front of staunchly resistant hardcore Maiden/metal fans for countless nights as the warm-up band on the current Somewhere Back In Time world tour.

There are glimpses of true grit running through most of the tunes (mostly written with a variety of collaborators, but especially producer/drummer Tommy McWilliams), even the poppy/punkier ones that were recorded earliest over a three-year span. There’s an overall attitude of not holding back, laying it on the line, no regrets … and final discovery – or re-discovery – of self.

In short, Calm Before the Storm is an unabashed tribute to the essence of true woman/girl power. It’s also a throw back – the good kind. The songs are mostly Joe Jackson-esque story-telling ones, about various types and stages of relationships and people, and the related doubts and observations. But, even when reflective and introspective, they’re upbeat and fun.

It doesn’t hurt that the songwriting is as tight as O.J. Simpson’s leather glove, and infectiously hooky, dynamic, and melodic to boot. (Yes, listen more than once, and you’re sure to be rewinding, even singing aloud, to some of the numbers like “Steal Your Fire” all day long.)

Harris’s voice is strong, though also girlish and pure – that is her “velvet” side. (She’s almost ethereal – even Alison Krauss-like – on ballads like “Hurry Up” and “From the Bottom to the Top,” especially.) A couple of the songs such as “See Through” and the disk extra, a cover of UFO’s “Natural Thing,” are not particularly suited to her pitch, however, or may have been meatier and more palatable had she gone into her lower register as she does on “Like It or Not,” “Your Turn,” “Hit or Miss,” and “Come on Over.”

Fortunately, for Harris, she also has a smoking hot band of rotating players backing her up. Especially noteworthy is Richie Faulkner (who also doubles as the lead axeman for London-based heavy-rockers Voodoo Six), a real future guitar god contender. Dad Steve Harris also puts in scattered appearances on bass and backing vocals, and executive produces the album itself.

Overall, there’s no denying that the more recently recorded rock-out numbers are the most artistically and vocally mature; they’re the satisfying nuggets and the ones that generate the most anticipation and promise. Towards that end, if Harris can just develop a greater level of uninhibited-ness – find the authoritative confidence to just let it loose more vocally with the power, gut and soul that is already hinted at here – then, considering her already well-honed stage presence, and the rare artistic nurturing she has in her back pocket, she very well could become a bonafide New Age, heavy rockin’ diva that can truly hold her own with the best of the boys.

For the moment, one of the album’s most highly addictive morsels, “Hit or Miss,” inadvertently sums it up best: Calm Before the Storm is “neither hit or miss/But she’s got it right.”

***1/2

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