Last year, North Carolina-based singer-songwriter Brett Harris’ career started to feel off balance. After self-releasing his melodic debut album, “Man of Few Words,” in 2010, Harris took on other projects — touring as a member of jangle-pop group The dB’s, doing local session work — and had inadvertently put his own music on the back burner.
“One day, I realized it’d been a couple of years since I’d gone out and gone on a [solo] tour,” Harris says. So he hit the road and also started work on an album, “Up in the Air,” which he recently finished and will release next year. For now, Harris, 32, is putting out a four-song EP, “Mr. Sunshine,” on Sept. 9 that features three new originals and a live cover of Big Star’s “Kangaroo.”
The EP is an apt representation of Harris’ upcoming weekend, when he’ll give his own music and his work as a sideman equal attention.
On Saturday at the 9:30 Club, he’s part of Big Star’s Third, the touring, orchestral tribute to the ’70s power pop band featuring the group’s sole surviving member, drummer Jody Stephens (see sidebar). On Sunday, Harris will take the stage alone at Iota, with fellow Third ensemble members Pat Sansone (of Wilco) and Skylar Gudasz serving as openers.
“If someone likes the Third show they’re gonna dig my stuff, too,” Harris says. “Especially having Pat and Skylar on their own as solo artists. I think there’s a cool common language that we speak. It feels like family.”
“Mr. Sunshine” certainly recalls Big Star — ornately produced songs that have a pop sensibility and a lurking darkness.
Considering that, over the past four years, Harris has participated in about a dozen Big Star’s Third shows, the influence was hard to avoid.
“I firmly believe that whatever you are listening to is going to come out in a certain way, shape or form,” Harris says.
Not that he’d have it any other way.
“I consider myself really fortunate to be a part of these shows,” Harris says. “I’m still in disbelief that I keep getting asked, but who am I to say no to a chance to stand in front of Jody Stephens’ drum kit?”
The Big Star’s Third shows began in December 2010 to honor singer Alex Chilton, who died that March. (Early shows served as a benefit for Durham, N.C., organization Kidznotes, which provides free music training for children.) There have been about a dozen worldwide shows since, with R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, The dB’s’ Chris Stamey and Big Star drummer Jody Stephens leading a rotating group of guest musicians (and a string section) through Big Star’s classic album “Third,” above left. For Saturday’s show at 9:30 Club, the ensemble will also play the band’s 1972 debut, “#1 Record,” which features Big Star’s most well-known song: “In the Street.” You probably know the Cheap Trick cover, which was used as the theme to “That ’70s Show.”
Big Star’s Third: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Sat., 7 p.m., $30.
Brett Harris: Iota Club & Cafe, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; Sun., 8:30 p.m., $12.
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