Hank Harris

"Fantasy Land"
covers new ground

Hank Harris - "Fantasy Land"

With his new CD, "Fantasy Land," longtime Sturgis Songwriter Hank Harris steps out of the comfortable niche he carved with his past two discs.

"Fantasy Land" is not only a step out, though. It's also a step up.

In his experimentation with the rootsy soft-rock sound he forged with "World Beat Cowboy" (1998) and "Here" (1999), Harris loosens up, and his songs begin to breathe.

Harris has had enough recording experience in the past 24 to know how a song fits together. That was apparent on "World Beat Cowboy" and "Here". Those discs established a style somewhere between the Eagles and Wings.

With "Fantasy Land," Harris pushes his established sound with unusual flourishes you'd expect from Pink Flyd or the Beatles, as well as unmistakable R&B influences.

The title track stands as a statement to the listener that the artist wanted to try something different. The song's cosmic ambience sets it apart from much else Harris has done. It's spacey but interesting and a signal of a musician extending his reach.

From there, Harris retreats a bit from his experiment, but just enough to allow his penchant for well-crafted pop to emerge.

Harris always has had one of the strong voices among Black Hills musicians; "Fantasy Land" presents his best vocal performance yet. The difference comes from the R&B flavor he brings to the music. His voice reaches for the soulful territory of Van Morrison, and Well-placed horn sections spice things up.

Harris still leans toward Caribbean and world rhythms. "Water of Life" lopes on a heavy reggae beat, and the catchy ska of "15 Minutes" sticks with you most of the day.

The last song, "Genuine Artificial," tinkers with the mid-'80s Mellencamp formula perhaps best described as patriotic cynicism. The down-home acoustic blues mute the sarcastic lyrics about American capitalism: "Anything is game when there's money to be made."

The disc's true feat may be in its consistency. Through the experiments, the solid craft of Harris' songs asserts itself as the common thread throughout. That's what we expect from Harris. But "Fantasy Land" gives us more.