Grammy-winning songwriter reveals his roots

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This Month In Americana

Jesse Harris won a Grammy recently when “Don’t Know Why”, one of the five songs he wrote for Norah Jones’ album Come Away With Me, beat even Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” to song of the year. But don’t be confused. Harris’ own music has little in common with Jones’ smooth jazz-pop. The night after the Grammies, he was back with his band performing his folk-country-roots-rock songs for 80 people in the Living Room, the tiny Lower East Side club in New York where he plays every week.

After beginning his career as half of the duo Once Blue, who recorded an album for EMI in 1995, Harris formed the Ferdinandos and has spent the last six years making home-spun albums on his own label and selling them at gigs. He met Jones when he played the University of North Texas, where she was a student. She was sent by the faculty to pick up the band from their hotel.

Away from his eight-million-selling side project with her, The Secret Sun is Harris’ fourth album with the Ferdinandos and was made as inexpensively as its predecessors. He was about to start selling it from his living room via the Internet when Blue Thumb signed him. The songs are ridiculously catchy, but not stupidly so, spanning the panoply of American roots styles with a healthy troubadour tendency and a delivery as effortless as Neil Young or Ryan Adams. Indeed, opener “Just A Photograph” could have appeared on Heartbreaker without seeming out of place. “What Makes You” is a beguiling country duet with a sultry Jones. There are lazy Southern waltzes and bucolic ballads, while “All My Life” and “You Were On My Mind” rock with ragged glory. The traditional “Roberta” (more commonly known as “Alberta”) is the only non-original on an album that establishes Harris as one of the finest contemporary US songwriters to emerge in recent years.