Lynn Harrison,
Learning Curve
(Lynoleum, 2003)

Lynn Harrison is a dangerous woman. It may be hard to believe of a songwriter who uses titles like "The Tooth Fairy Forgot," but she's swift, cutting and far too knowing. That her attacks are all delivered in the gentlest tones and most sincere sympathies shouldn't serve as a defense. Throughout her Learning Curve, she is out to grab your emotions, put you through the wringer and turn you in on yourself until your heart's so dazed and your eyes so blurry that the whole world looks strange.

Harrison's songs aren't so affecting because of their grim subject matter. They brim with cautious hope and an embarrassing honesty. She excels at portraying moments of joy and humor without becoming syrupy. The self-chastising "I've Been Busy" and the near-miss relief of "Maybe I was Wrong" are pleasant songs, and Harrison's lyrics are always well balanced. But she shines in the peaceful appreciation of "Tall Trees," the daring endeavor of "Skates and Wings." "Yes It's Cold in Winnipeg" is clearly half of an argument refusing to happen, and it's written with such a fine ear for dialogue that the partner's voice is almost audible.

Harrison presents these insights with a flexible voice that moves comfortably between low soprano and high alto in low-key approach that leaves her room for emoting without having to scream out lines for emphasis. This conversational approach makes her words more affecting, like finding a deep truth in a fortune cookie. The music throughout the album is deceptively unassuming. It seems like rather unobtrusive, gentle folk tunes that aren't easy to hum and may be hard even to remember. But while your conscious mind is set resonating with the lyrics, the music is busy pulling at your lower emotions, untying your toughest defenses. Harrison's acoustic guitar leads the instrumental invasion, with David Woodhead's mandolin providing an extra sharp sting. Electric guitars and even the presence of a violin only make the effect more subtle and penetrating, without ever coming close to distracting from Harrison's persistently insightful lyrics.

Like any Learning Curve, Lynn Harrison's album takes some practice to handle. Don't listen to it while driving or operating heavy machinery, or in any setting where you can't comfortably bawl like an overwhelmed child. But when you're ready to learn something new -- or even if you're not -- Harrison has a lesson worth hearing.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 6 September 2003

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