The debut album from Boise-by-way-of-England singer-songwriter HarpersMan (Steve Bowes) is called A Little Different; and based on what typically gets sent to Boise Weekly for review, it is.
For example, instead of being the much-anticipated solo project by another in a long line of Brooklyn hipsters, it is the debut of Steve Bowes, a middle-aged dude. Instead of a neatly printed one sheet or an artsy handmade press release, it came with a 16-page glossy magazine full of high-quality black-and-white photos and album lyrics.
In an age pathologically dedicated to an anti-professional image, HarpersMan dares to do it old school.
That approach is clear in the music on A Little Different. Instead of a soft and introverted approach to folk, HarpersMan pulls from the bolder melodic phrasing and vocal style of the 1970s to create a smoothly produced album without a single rough edge. The strings are as smooth as the drum tones. Bowes put lots of work into the album and it shows.
Then there's the accompaniment. While contemporary folk-rock tends to pull from gypsy or Americana influences, snatches of Celtic music shine in the vocal melodies and the instruments played by a bevy of Boise's strongest session and backing musicians--like Ben Burdick and Bernie Reilly.
The combo is an album that sounds smoothly out of time, like it could be a collection of late-era James Taylor ballads. Bowes throatily croons testaments to the intoxication of love and the changing power of family over strummed acoustic guitar dressed up with Bread-esque flourishes of rock.
However well-done A Little Different is, the genre-fied feel of the album sticks more than any of its particular pieces. And while the differences in that overall sound stand out from contemporary folk-rock practitioners, they don't stand out strongly from the rogues' gallery of classic rockers that trampled that ground flat long ago.