Roger Harvey is a Philly-based folk singer-songwriter with punk roots who wears his influences on his sleeve. The comparisons to Woody Guthrie that today’s self-released Cowtown is likely to receive are apt. Like Guthrie, Harvey is a storyteller, one whose songs also ask the listener to consider their own story. He’s a contemplative and candid songwriter. His music manages to be warmly nostalgic but also bright and future-facing. Of the three songs here, the title track “Cowtown” is the most invested in the personal, a song where a reminiscing “I” addresses a specific “You.” The two “ramble around” a small town, and the singer wonders what life might be like beyond its borders. Sweet and understated harmonies provided by Anika Pyle and Benny Pierce (Fans of Left of the Dial Live Sessions will know Ben from his work on our wall) keep the song from feeling too lonely or isolated. “Talkin’ Hard Line,” the second of the three songs released today, begins with an equally introspective thought, but it’s one that expands to include the world at large. “Lately, I’ve been thinking about fear,” Harvey admits as the song opens, letting everyone know how he feels about the way fear can keep all of us shying away from reality. “We all deserve to live a life that’s dignified, but that don’t mean we get to hide,” he insists. While the two original songs are questioning, slightly melancholy things, it’s telling that Harvey chose to include a much more declarative and cheerful cover to close out the collection. Written by Richard Leigh and Susanna Clark, and performed most notably by Kathy Mattea in the late 80s, “Come from the Heart” is a painfully earnest, uncynical song. “You’ve gotta dance, dance, dance like nobody’s watching. It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work,” Harvey sings, and while his own songs might be too aware of the world they were written in to lean so fully into the optimistic, taken together, this trio of songs is overall hopeful. Roger Harvey’s music doesn’t ignore the facts of our current world, but instead of suffocating under the weight of . . . well, everything . . . Cowtown insists on believing in the possibility of a brighter future.
If you live in Georgia or North Carolina, catch Roger Harvey on the road with Tim Barry and Lee Bains, May 19th and 20th, respectively. Tickets.