Michael William Harrison,
First Time 'Round
(Boston Road, 2001)

Michael William Harrison is the sort of authentic folk artist who keeps the genre alive and kicking. There are no frills on his debut album, the appropriately titled First Time 'Round -- it's a man and a guitar with, on a few tracks, a "little help" from his friends.

Harrison prefers live recordings, but made a reluctant compromise (if I'm reading the tone of his liner notes correctly) to record this album "live" in the studio. In fact, he asks listeners if they can spot the one track with vocal overdubs; if you detect the difference, he wants to know about it. For my part, I was fooled -- and I wondered why he didn't go for broke and nail down the album at one of the Texas pubs or coffeehouses where he seems to have a loyal following.

The album is a warm collection of genre standards culled from Irish, Scottish, American and Canadian traditions. There aren't a lot of surprises here, although some tracks are much more familiar than others. Titles include traditionals "Rising of the Moon," "Old Carrion Crow," "Wild Mountain Thyme," "John Riley" and "Whiskey in the Jar" and covers "Roseville Fair," "The Dutchman," "Ned's Chanty" and "The M.T.A." Harrison also chimes in with an original, "One More Ride," about following one's dreams with gumption.

Several tracks feature just Harrison's earnest vocals and guitar -- it's easy to imagine him set up on a stool in a dark corner of a pub -- while others add a bit of fiddle, bass, mandolin, banjo or vocal harmony.

This is the core of folk music, just a singer and his music. If we don't keep musicians like Michael William Harrison sitting on their stools and strumming their guitars, all the big band projects around won't keep folk music alive.

by Tom Knapp
23 August 2003

On First Time 'Round, we find a wonderful blend of both the familiar and slightly less familiar from a singer who obviously loves what he does.

Michael William Harrison opens with "Roseville Fair," a nice easy and simply produced recording of a familiar song. He follows with that much-maligned "Rising of the Moon." This song dropped out of sight for far too long when it was associated too closely with violence. In fact, it is one of those traditional songs that so many people can warble without too much difficulty and usually do not murder. This version has a nice guitar backing with subtle rhythm changes at times.

"One More Ride" comes from his pen as well as his voice. It is a good song, well delivered, about following your heart. Thank God so many singers and songwriters do just that to produce recorded gems like this.

My favourite track -- well, one of them -- is "Ned's Chanty." It again is a simple rendition of a true tale of shipboard life. The song "Old Carrion Crow" is another discovery on this album. It is simple, interesting and singable. Two old favourites get the Harrison treatment, "Wild Mountain Thyme" and "Whiskey in the Jar."

Another track that I particularly enjoyed was "John Riley." It is listed as traditional but even the singer admits to being unsure. It has that timeless sound. It could date from colonial times or might be from the 1960s. Whatever its origins, the song is great and Harrison gives it just the right production. He closes the album with "The M.T.A.," returning us to those great days of the Kingston Trio and singalong folk.

This may be his first time around, but I look forward to the return journey of Michael William Harrison.

by Nicky Rossiter
21 January 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.