It's a good bet you've heard Jesse Harris's songs even if you've never heard of Jesse Harris. The New Yorker penned Norah Jones's hit "Don't Know Why" and a couple of others on her smash debut album, "Come Away With Me," 18 million copies sold worldwide and still counting.
It was to Harris's credit that he chose not to play "Don't Know Why" when he performed at the half-full Iota on Tuesday night. Songwriters, especially young ones, can't afford to rest on their laurels (though Harris probably could afford to rest on his royalty checks). Instead, he and his two band mates served up material from his three albums, including the most recent, "While the Music Lasts."
Like Jones, Harris has a sad and sleepy way with a song. They are lullabies of loss that are as musically soothing as they are lyrically tragic. Farewells, breakups, abandonment all pile up in his world-weary compositions, but his mellifluous voice is restrained and, considering the material, remarkably unemotional. The result is that many of his tunes -- carrying hints of blues and jazz without really being either -- lack an edge, maybe even a soul. The music ends up sounding like pop for serious people. Or maybe just people who take themselves seriously.
It's a formula that can work magic -- just ask Norah -- but after a while it has the same effect as an elephant tranquilizer.
Even a couple of covers, including "Corrina, Corrina," couldn't quite shake Harris out of his desultory sameness. An amusing exception was "She's Never Gonna Want Me Now," a paean to every brokenhearted mope who's ever been dumped. On the whole, Harris's songs are a good thing. But especially in this case, too much of a good thing can be a bit of a drag.
-- Joe Heim