First Ray Of Light is the very good debut solo album from JR Harbidge, who will be a new name to many. But Harbidge has been active in the Midlands rock music scene for over twenty years and has had an extensive career as both a musician and a producer. He played in his first band, Powderfinger, while still a teenager before forming cult grunge band Third Bullet in the mid-noughties. The band’s Resistance Is Futile became widely known from a Harley Davidson advertising campaign.
The ten tracks that make up First Ray Of Light are split between candid reflections on life and love and some more overtly political songs. With good variety in pace, excellent instrumentation and smooth expressive vocals, the album falls nicely into an Americana influenced, soft rock groove. Using both acoustic and electric guitars to back his vocals, Harbidge shows his skills to good effect with some lovely melodies as well as the odd blistering solo.
A Side Of You That Cares is a lovely emotional song with some delicate slide guitar work on display. The album’s title track has a positive feel and a melodic catchiness that is livened by a George Harrison style backwards guitar part. The downbeat When You Don’t Love Your Man shows a clear blues influence, its deep sound building from organ and strings. Older And Sober is, exactly as the title suggests, a reflection on life that sees progress and a new sense of security.
The album’s opener, and first single, Turn The Screw, tells of oppression in a folky song that builds nicely. The rallying cry in I Won’t Support Your Wars is heartfelt and anthemic, a retro sounding folk song with real bite. Closing track I Know You Know I Know is the closest the album ventures towards mainstream rock territory. Coming in at just under seven minutes long, its strong guitar riffs over the characteristic swell of a Hammond organ sets it up nicely for a guitar solo that smokes.
JR Harbidge has produced a varied debut album of real quality. The vocals and guitar work are clearly the focus, but there is also a sprinkling of keyboard and organ work that add much to the sound. First Ray Of Light will appeal to a wide range of listeners – let’s hope we don’t need to wait another twenty years for Harbidge’s next album.