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B D HarringtonB D Harrington
Album: The Diver's Curse
Label: Microcultures
Tracks: 11

A Toronto (and sometimes London) based Irish-Canadian who's a filmmaker and painter as well as a singer-songwriter, Harrington scrapped his original stripped down solo recordings and went back in with a three piece backing band providing basic bass, drums and guitar as well as a variety of other musicians offering embellishments by way of strings, flute, accordion, cajon and mandolin, to bring a fuller sound and draw out the melodies.

Harrington wears his influences easy, drawing on but never drowning in them, so you'll hear traces of Will Oldham, Bill Callahan, Neil Young, Lou Reed and, especially, Cohen. He's also a poet rather than a storyteller, weaving images and phrases that create impressions without necessarily forming a solid picture. Case in point is the slow swaying and somewhat Dylanesque opening track, "Resusci-Anne", the lyrics of which would suggest someone facing execution, although the title is actually the name of the mannequin used for CPR.

Poets are influences too. Kenneth Patchen, the 40s writer who influenced the beat poets, provides the words for the album's spare strummed guitar, accordion and piano closing track, "Little Birds" on which Barzin's Susanne Hancock provides harmonies, while his poem "Boxers Always Hit Harder When Women Are Around" provides both the chorus line and the first half of the title on a song that seems to be about wearied machismo and resignation to mortality.

In addition, the second stanza of "Early Morning Eye", is actually "Envoi" by Cornish poet Charles Causley (and which was also included in Bob Pegg's "Ballad of the Five Continents"), Harrington, backed by Hancock's harmonies, giving it a strong Cohen feel.

Elsewhere, the Cohen echoes ring loudest on the funereal pace of "Black Waves" (which may be about words spoken in anger and has the air of some dark charm being woven), electric guitars knifing their way through the slow march, and on the breathily sung slow waltzing "One Match Left", a meditation on the twin impulses of self-destruction and forgiveness that could well have come from "Songs Of".

Earlier in the album, the languidly narcotic ghost of Lou Reed looms large over "Sleepy John", one of the album's stand out tracks and, even if I make no pretence to understanding what the song's on about, featuring the highly quotable line "when hate holds your gun, your enemy has won."

I'll take it on trust when the PR blurb says the album's "full of cracked cautionary tales of wandering too far, diving down too deep, coming up empty handed or ravaged and torn by what lies beneath the waves, the words, the skin, the promises". And that they "examine the shifting tectonics of love, memory and time, the mysterious intersections where the present meets the past and the endless blood flow of regret and acceptance which courses through everything."

Others can delve into that, so I'll just say that there's much here to intoxicate, both in his words and his music, your ears directed to the churchy piano backed "Contamana," the headily romantic languor ("don't tie knots tie bows") of "Nightingale Lane" , and the terrific Dylan/Young hybrid of "Apple Cart" with its striking and desolate final verse of

Death climbs the spine one rung at a time
A voice laid out in monotone
We're ravished. Shapeless and blind
And tonight we all go home alone

If you discount the poem borrowings, there's one non-original here, Hancock providing caressing harmonies behind the lone, bare-boned guitar on a cover of fellow Canadian Andrew Sweeny's salvationist hymnal "In Your Arms", the lyrics and melancholic mood of which (I have been made poor by riches, I've been burned by desire, buried in mud and I found no truth or wisdom at the bottom") chimes perfectly with Harrington's own emotional and spiritual sensibilities. Find yourself a darkened room and absorb.

Mike Davies