Long As I Got My Guitar
When an album has the word guitar in its title, you tend to assume it's going to be fairly guitar heavy. Zac Harmon is a soulful guitarist, but his voice is the real treat, giving songs a certain ease without taking away any of their emotional impact.
Harmon came up through LA session work before deciding to back himself in 2003. Long As I Got My Guitar is bluesy, but with generous dollops of funk and soul that give the album a complexity. Which makes the warmth of his vocals appreciated. His music pushes, while keeping the tracks listenable and mid-tempo. But his voice comforts. It's a perfect match.
There are also some nice surprises. "Crying Shame," a 50s-influenced tune, features accordion. The accordion isn't manic zydeco, but rather an interesting, Cajun texture. His voice is sad but not despondent. He's not wallowing in hopelessness, so much as he's connecting the listener to a sadness he's processed. And the titular guitar, or at least the solo, doesn't come in until around halfway through the song. It's tasteful, thoughtful, and as emotive as his voice, a songwriting tool as much as it's a chance for Harmon to show off a bit.
The title track goes a long way toward explaining the album. While it can initially reads as a boastful statement, the song is really about someone losing everything, but not lamenting it, since they have their guitar. That sentiment radiates through the album. Harmon never tries to kill you with his playing, but at the same time his guitar work is special. Here, when he transitions, ever-too-briefly, into B.B. King's version of "The Thrill is Gone," it not only works for the song, but it's a sweet tribute to one of his influences.
Harmon even elevates the less sophisticated songs. "Imagine a Prayer," written by album producer Jim Gaines and Sandy Carroll, is a sweet-enough song that's also straight-forward with lyrics like: "Imagine a world where we're all one." It features 1980s keyboards that wouldn't be out of place on a David Lee Roth-era Van Halen album. The vocal melody is relentlessly optimistic, matching up with the lyrics. The song should feel cheesy, but Harmon successfully sells it, making it come off as charmingly optimistic more than anything.
Harmon floats between styles. There's a strong, bluesy undercurrent to the entire album; especially his guitar playing. But his voice provides strong waves of soul and rhythm and blues. It all fits together beautifully. The guitar might have a place of honor on the album cover, but Harmon's vocals certainly deserve a spot on the marquee, too.