Harding: Across The Road

By: Dennis Cook

"We've come so far, so fast/ But we can't find our way home." Thus begins the instantly winning solo debut from Richmond Fontaine's bassist Dave Harding, Across The Road (El Cortez). Recorded in Portland with Mike Coykendall (M. Ward, Old Joe Clarks), this song cycle honors Harding's friend and creative foil, Todd Scherer. On the surface this is hearty Americana but Harding has the understated songwriting flair of underground greats like Dwight Twilley and Tommy Keene. Put a little time between listens and each return will surprise you with how the patina thickens. The chunky twang & strum roll carry you through loss and abundant life, a brightly etched world slipping by at a crisp yet contemplative clip.

There's a few grand curves, too. "Song For Firehose" is mighty fine Caucasian funk peppered with spiky guitar and sultry bass. There's an endearing, reaching passion to Harding's vocals throughout but he reveals some hard soul chops on "Firehose." Instrumental "The Gazebo" is a beggar's waltz with violin and bright acoustic strings bathing the listener in candlelight. "So Close" rivals Buddy Holly at his most tender, say "Dearest" stroked by empathetic cello with oceanic bass underpinning a quiet tale of absence and longing.

"Treefort" recalls Copperhead Road-era Steve Earle, a mixture of roadhouse boogie and innocence as seen through the eyes of a man who's lived some. The title cut pounds at life's pain with Richmond Fontaine buddy Willy Vlautin dueting on a first-rate highway hymn. Vlautin belts, "I really like this place/ 'Cause it makes my thoughts run even." It's the kind of place we all hope our wheels will take us, and Harding plants a true smile at the last mile marker. A similar uplifting spirit fuels the sun dappled, cello-driven "Coriander," and "Tecumseh Highway" is tough, aching outlaw country. Closer "Brand New Shotgun" cranks up the amps and growls like a '50s pick-up truck climbing a steep grade – a glorious choogler with mean guitars that throw a wet kiss to oblivion, a fitting end to one of the best meat 'n' taters platters in a long while. The little four-track denouement of what sounds like a kitchen jam of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils' "If You Wanna Get To Heaven" is the perfect spice to leave lingering on the listener's tongue, too.

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