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Reviews

The press speaks out!

They Love Us NOT!

SPUNN-One

There's no nice way to do this, so I'll be brief. This is another CD by Lee Harris and his associates who gave us the wonderful works of Quick Like Bunnies, Surf Like Rednecks, Chicken Scratch (sic), etc.
I like the fact they are into so many things, and even better is they're really good at it. But once the singing starts, my mind shuts down like a power plant in California. I cannot stand these vocals.
If your face looks like roadkill, it doesn't matter how tight your ass is.-Robert Stutler, Richmond Music Journal-6/01.

Lee Harris and Chicken-Scratch

Chicken scratch is right. What the hell is this? If you're not serious about your music, then who will be? The first song is about the word game Scrabble. Come on. The second is a weezer-wannabe tune that takes a nose-dive on every chorus. The next few are about water. If you drop a CD in water, will it sink? This one will. I promise. With music like this, Lee and the boys must be shooting for the opening slot on the Weird Al tour. Lee Harris' voice grows on you. It grew on me like a fungus I scrapped (sic) off with a putty knife and flicked out the back door. I know there is not a lot to do out there in Oilville, but Lee should take up fishing.-The Griper, Richmond Music Journal, 8/99

The Cartwheels-Lee Harris Presents

How appropriate that the Cartwheels are on a digital automatic music CD (D.A.M.) That's what I said when I saw who did it. Everyone deserves a second chance, but the idea is to grow and improve and strive for greater things. It didn't happen here. I'll give the instrumentation credit. They at least know how to change the style and tempo, if just barely. But the vocals are fixated on one thing, being whiney. And, unfortunately for the listener, they succeed far too well. Coupled with mediocre singsong melodies and juvenile lyrics hung up on underage sex, this is the most irritating album I've ever heard. This D.A.M. thing has only two redeeming qualities. It makes a great Frisbee and the jewel case can be reused.-Robert Stutler, Richmond Music Journal, 12/99

They Love Us!

Lee Harris - Juvenile High
 
I never saw Lee Harris with Rosebud, his old Richmond-area band. I was lucky enough, however, to catch him with the Miserable Space Cowboys, a two-concert-only amalgamation of Richmond musicians who played Smiths and Steve Miller covers one night (hence the band name) and Joy Division and ELO covers the next. As Harris, wearing "sad clown" makeup and singing from typewritten notecards, belted out "Sweet Talkin' Woman" that night in 1990, Richmond rock reached a kind of wacky, trashy nirvana. Juvenile High, a 16-song compilation of Harris' (now a budding Nashville singer/songwriter) home recordings from the last 7 years, has the same quality. After "Lee Lee Lee" kicks things off with a cartoonish giggle ("Lee Lee Lee! It's always Lee!" squeal a chorus of sped-up voices), High moves in a bunch of unexpected but rewarding directions: funky white soul (the great "Can't Stand Up"), countryish ballads ("With Your Memory"), and nimble new-wavish rockers ("What Do You Want Out of Life")--all topped by Harris' soulful Boz-Scaggs-on-cough-syrup crooning. - Doyle Hull  Throttle Magazine

SPUNN-Shine
 
This is Lee Harris, the very definition of prolific and the poster boy for the proposition:  Does In-Home Recording Create Too Much Bad Music?
 
This time his Oilville Musical Dynasty has put out a 16-minute CD.  There are 6 numbered songs, but actually only five.  The first, "The Announcement," consists of, "I'm about to play a song better than Ryan Adams ever dreamed he could do it."  Chris Roberson and Barry Shumate are on guitars, Monty Jones on drums, and Lee Harris on bass, and they proceed to track 2, rocking out on "Where the Rubber Meets the Road."  Harris doesn't sing like Ryan Adams, more like another alt-country guy, Neil Young. 
 
They slow it down for the next song, sounding even more like Young on "Falling Forward," which includes the interesting lyrics, "I was the tall hog at the trough, Now I know that I'm really green."  After that, the lyrics get mushy, but the laid back style stays the same, and I smiled during "Gonna Make You (Smile)." (sic)
 
I always liked Neil Young, Why aspire to be Ryan Adams?
 
Walter Boelt, Richmond Music Journal, 10/02 

The Lee Harris Combo-Out of the Box
 
  Have you ever insulted someone when you intended to compliment them?  And then everything you say to make up for it comes out as a bigger insult than the first?
 
  That's the case with "Out of the Box" by the Lee Harris Combo.  I have become a real fan of this album, yet when I try to describe it, I sound like I'm hacking it apart with an ax.  For example, I can't remember a single melody from this all-instumental CD.  All the songs run together. 
 
  How is that not an insult?
 
  Well, remember the old adage, "a place for everything and everything in its place"?  There are often days when I'm too preoccupied to get into a song.  All I want is backround noise.  And this is perfect.  It's better than perfect.  The songs feature a rich, full sound, excellent flow and movement, and upbeat melodies.  By the time it ends, you are filled with positive energy.
 
  How is that not a compliment?
 
-Robert Stutler, Richmond Music Journal July 2002

Lee Harris-Five Score
 
My first reaction to the part of "Fivescore" I received was it must be a ton of filler material.  Why would someone do such a thing?  But after listening to the first disc, I'm glad he did it.  The filler must be on the other three discs. 
 
There are 25 songs on the first CD and after six listens, there isn't one I don't like.  In fact, many are outstanding.  The musical styles vary from rock to country to post-punk alternative to electronica, and songwriting is a strong point.  Harris posted a diary of progress on this project on his website at www.leeharrisonline.com.  He writes songs or works on song ideas constantly.    
 
This hard work has created interesting and catchy melodies, creative arrangements and clever lyrics.  there are way too many lyrical lines to list, but one favorite is, "I feel like J. Edgar Hoover in his party dress" from "Read My Mind."  This old-style country song featuring piano is a perfect metaphor for a man longing for love, and creates a vivid mental image.
 
Harris, as usual, plays almost all the instruments on "Five Score."  The piano is prominent and he has a real talent on it and the other keyboards he uses.  As the bass player for Meanflower, he also lays down some cool bass lines.  My favorite tune, "Police & Fire Report," sounds like the Minutemen or Firehose with herky-jerky tempo changes and excellent bass sounds.  It's primarily an instrumental with Harris reading actual police and fire reports from the newspaper over music played at different tape speeds. Very cool!
 
Vocals have been a sore point on some of his previous material, but here he has a real comfort level with singing.  "Somewhere" opens with beautiful harmonies and develops into a tremendous song. 
 
Who knows how he'll follow this, but he posted a memo to himself on his website to "only do one 100-song album."  Harris should find plenty of work with other musicians as a songwriter or producer, but I hope he continues to put out CD's like this one.
 
-Mortimer McWilliams Richmond Music Journal 6/02  

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The first three Lee Harris CD's I listened to didn't impress me.  I felt some freak with a bend toward music had gotten his hands on a keyboard with effects and was grinding out work with no substance.  I didn't think he could reproduce these sounds in live performance.  Only "Me & Monty's Guitar" was worthy of a review.  [I never saw a review of that-Lee]
 
Now he has released a 100-song CD set, and I've heard part of it.  Harris is a studio musician, and in "Fivescore," there's at least one song almost anyone will like.  Actually, there are a number of gems.  Any band having trouble coming up with original material could use Harris' stock for covers.  Select some, put arrangements, instrumentation and vocals to them, and the effort could prove lucrative.
 
Lee Harris may not be the king of the Richmond music scene, but he is the Duke of Oil(ville).  Forgive the pun.  It's a compliment.
 
-Paul McGill, Richmond Music Journal 6/02
 
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Lee Harris is one of the most prolific artists in the area, but I never expected a 100-song collection.  An accomplished musician, he switches styles the way a fashion model switches clothes.  Most songs are mellow rock, but he easily goes into high tempo, electronica or western swing. 
 
What I find most appealing is he doesn't take himself seriously.  The music is light-hearted and played with humor and fun.  The highlights of the 25 I listened to are "The Barbecue song" with it's vocal distortion, the doo wop bee bop sound of "Secondhand News," and the country flavor of "Basically Strangers."
 
Harris does a mean Ben Folds imitation at the piano, but after hearing Fold's "Brick" 50 thousand times, it's not particularly a sound I want to hear again from anyone.
 
Unless Harris saved the best for last and these last 25 are the best of his 100 songs, to quote Oliver Twist, "please sir, can I have some more?"
 
Robert Stutler, Richmond Music Journal 9/02  

Lee Harris, "Best Foot Forward," 25 sides,
The next time somebody asks where all the good writers have gone, I'll them about Lee Harris. 4 Stars-
Rhett Ashley, International Country Music Association July 2002 Newsletter

The Sassy Astronauts-
Tailspin

This is funny stuff. Well, maybe not that funny, but after all the testosterone over the airwaves, Sassy Astronauts is a welcome relief.
Best line: "She's never known the love that's grown out where the cows go shitty."
Okay, it's not exactly Zappa, but it's better than singing Limp Bizkit like Elmer Fudd for laughs, which I do.
There's creative writing in the liner notes as to who these people are, but the truth lies in their lyrics. "Oilville VA., y'all can't funk with me, me and old Monty Jones. Got a song factory all our own."
And do they ever. These folks are like bunnies when it comes to producing things for the RMJ to review. I thought they must be kooks, but then I saw them playing with Meanflower, and they looked pretty normal.
But then again, there's a guy wearing a dress on the cover, and their song "Funk Tryouts" pretends to give Walter Bell a tryout, but decides a flute's not funky. Pat McGee gets a tryout, but he only knows "Rebecca." And last, they decide on the sexy guy in Carbon Leaf, saying he's sexy enough for the Sassy Astronauts. Barry Privett, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Walter Boelt, Richmond Music Journal, September 2001

SPUNN-Bail

Lee Harris, Monty Jones, and the others at the Oilville Musical Dynasty are excellent musicians. And this four-song CD released under the name SPUNN reinforces that belief.

The opening track, "Everything's Wrong," begins as a great instrumental with a good, relaxing beat and a nice build-up of sound and intensity. The piece held together well until the vocals began. The same thing happens on the third track, which also had an excellent musical intro.

I like the bouncy polka rock beat of the second song, too, but Harris' vocals are high and nasal and send shivers down my back like fingernails on a blackboard. When he keeps his vocals tighter and restrained, as he does on the three other tracks, the results are more pleasant. This is the most prolific organization in local music. Their MP3's are all over the internet.-Robert Stutler, Richmond Music Journal.

COUNTDOWN-A Benefit to End Homelessness

"Lee Harris may be an unfamiliar name, but the Lou Reed-meets-Tim Buckley tune Dog in a Cage is a project highlight" - Ames Arnold, STYLE Magazine

Read the full review here

Chicken-Scratch

"The catchword here is variety, for variety there is, in the tempo,the style, the atmosphere, and the vocals. If variety is the spice of life, this album is a seasoning rack.
Every song is different. They run from cute, to serious, to silly, to weird. They cover the entire emotional spectrum. And the vocals change, too. They cruise along like an on-key Neil Young, or rev up into an irritating Adam Sandler high gear, or down shift into a stoned Lou Reed.
"Scrabble" equates the games we play in relationships with those we play for fun. "Swim," sung in the Adam Sandler voice, is a child who wants to go swimming. "Save Me," is more serious, as is "Don't Drink the Water," with its bizarre syncopation.
Individually, these songs are intriguing and stand up well, but together there's not enough time to chew on one before the next one hits. As a result, the CD becomes a wad of confusion without continuity or direction.
Next time they should take more time setting up the order of the songs, then I'll be saying they're like "an Egg McMuffin with an extra slice of cheese."
--Robert Stutler

Richmond Music Journal

"Jack Benny did it with a violin, Adam Sandler with a guitar. Lee Harris and Chicken Scratch (sic) do it with garage band rock and roll. It's musical stand-up that combines strip club beats with soft drink innuendo, comparing tasty women to an "Egg McMuffin with extra cheese," and come-ons like "I love the way you make your biscuits."
There's human wah-wah, woo-ho's, hee-hee-hoo's, and feedback - which I didn't know was humanly possible. But anything's possible on this CD. A southern Lou Reed contemplates how wasted am I? Let me count the ways.
There are a couple of attempts at serious music, but not enough serious lyrics. After repeating, "You didn't want it after all," for the 10th time, I had to agree. No, I didn't. But seriousness aside, the funny business shines, especially on their water trilogy which traces our collective aqua memories of time-outs from the lifeguard ("I really want to swim, but they won't let me.") to "Don't drink the water, it'll make you sick," and the universal cry, "Remember when we were dumb-er?"
Some memories are more recent than others."
--Walter Boelt Richmond Music Journal

Surf Like Rednecks-Surfin' Holiday

John Travolta in bib overalls and Uma Thurman in a beehive, dancing to a hoe-down. Yee-ha, wipe out! This is house music for an Oregon Hill luau, Lynyrd Skynyrd on boards.
Actually, there's no Southern accent musically, and no vocals, period. But how can something recorded in a garage in Oilville on Tractor Pull Records in Glen Allen not be Southern? Check out their MP3 site: www.mp3.com/surflikerednecks for a sample of their self-described "modern lo-fi surf rock." As you listen, picture yourself cruising on a seedy Southern ocean front in a Quentin Tarrantino movie. And when Harvey Keitel asks, "Are you cool?" reply with a drawl, "Yessiree dude, I am cool!"-Walter Boelt, Richmond Music Journal, 8/99

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