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Leo Harmonay melds classic rock aesthetics with a provocative lyricism

In “Best Mistake,” folk musician Leo Harmonay melds classic rock aesthetics with a provocative lyricism, easygoing acoustic harmonies and a swaying beat that, when combined together in the measured cocktail that we hear in this track, make for the pure magic that personifies Naked Rivers. This latest record from Harmonay is easily the most well-planned and precisely executed of any in his catalogue of releases, but despite its meticulous design, it has an off the cuff, unrehearsed feel to some of its most climactic moments, making it sound so much more anti-commercial than most of the alternative folk albums being released this summer have been. Naked Rivers is as endearing an LP as they come and a must-listen for roots music aficionados everywhere this August.

Enlia drops in for a seductive lead vocal in “Lost Summer,” and alongside “Contours” and “The Ballad of the Unknown River Driver,” this track introduces an almost ambient groove to Leo Harmonay’s trademark sound that brings all of the color in the gentle rhythm to the surface of the mix. “Broken Cup,” “Patterns” and the title track are a little more lyrically-driven than some of the other songs here are, but really all of the content on this record has a very engrossing, multidimensional feel to it. Harmonay has a real way with his words, but unlike his past attempts at making something as sprawling as this disc is, he’s applying just as much effort to making the instrumentation a focal point as he is his verses.

“Lucky Guess” and “Best Mistake” are probably the most polished tracks here production-wise, and though you could make the argument that all of the compositions on Naked Rivers could be radio-ready singles if Harmonay chose to release them that way, I think we get a much better grasp of the artistry in this album from listening to it straight through as a cohesive piece of music. It’s not a progressive rock affair, but I’ve yet to walk away with the same emotions in a cherry-picking session with this tracklist as I have after an uninterrupted listening experience where every song is played back to back as was originally intended. Theatrical might be too liberal a term, but Naked Rivers is inarguably a sit-down spin if I’ve ever heard one.

Leo Harmonay has come a long way in the past few years, and I think this LP is definitely some of the most reflective and weighty folk output that listeners can expect to hear when browsing their local record stores this season. Naked Rivers has a lot of different components to it, and while it’s devoid of the poppy gloss that would probably garner it the lion’s share of accolades from both indie and mainstream media publications alike in 2019, it doesn’t need the industrial fluff to make a splash with folk music’s most loyal followers. I’ve listened to a lot of acoustic-based pop this August, but in regards to artists making something that will stand the test of time, this album and its mastermind have no equal in their scene right now.

Mindy McCall

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