Neil Young demonstrated that sensitive singer/songwriters and roaring, distorted guitars could mess around and make beautiful music together; Princeton, New Jersey’s Chris Harford (ex-Three Colors) is one happy result of that union. On his exceptional solo debut — a handsome quilt of gentle country rock, simple acoustic soliloquies and raging noise-rock storms (occasionally mixing approaches within a song) — the well-connected guitarist with the hoarse whisper receives assistance from such eclectic guests as Richard Thompson, Ween, the Proclaimers, Loudon Wainwright III, Matt Sweeney (ex-Skunk, pre-Chavez) and the Rollins Band rhythm section. But what really distinguishes Be Headed is Harford’s finely crafted writing and the emotion-laden resonance of his delivery. Collectively, “Unsaid Things,” “You Know Me the Best,” “Living End,” “My Little Sadness,” “Road With You” and “Sing, Breathe and Be Merry” richly portray the artist as an incisive empath with as strong a sense of self as of song structure. Whether ripping into a meltdown guitar solo or barely breathing a lyric into the silence, Harford is a singular voice, and Be Headed captures all of his facets and subtleties.
Harford made a second album, but it ran into label resistance and never appeared. In early ’96, he self-released some of it, along with a handful of 8-track demos for other tunes, all recorded between 1989 and 1994, as Comet. The absence of marquee names and the occasionally skeletal arrangements have no adverse effect on the nine tasteful, incisive songs, simply performed with help from longtime associates Kevin Salem (guitar), Dave Dunton (piano), Claude Coleman Jr. (drums) and others. Forged in Harford’s artistic furnace, quiet numbers like “Dying to Be Free,” “Second Guessing” (with an explosive Salem solo) and “Long Time Friend Gone” are the easy equals to Be Headed‘s best.