New Listen: Mitchell & Harris’s ‘Traveling By Moonlight’

Artist: Mitchell & Harris
Album: Traveling By Moonlight (2011)

This particular New Listen is a real treat for me as it’s personal. G. Pat Harris – a dear friend and first musical soulmate with whom I heavily collaborated in 2003-6 – is half of this wonderful duo along with Anna Mae Mitchell. Pat and Anna’s collaboration began in bluegrass while we were all classmates at Central Michigan University. Since then, they’ve developed a continually expanding original repertoire and are both now based in Austin, TX.

While the obvious core is Mitchell (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Harris (basses, vocals, harmonica, songwriting), don’t be fooled – Traveling By Moonlight (artwork by Ashleigh Wisser) is a full-on sonic experience. The band includes a full rhythm section – drums, acoustic and electric guitars, bass (of course) – and also features piano, mandolin, violin, and percussion. I hesitate to simply label it “Americana” for fear of pigeonholing. Though that’s definitely the starting point, rock, folk, pop, country, jazz, and various other elements also blend together to create what matters most: a solid album of great original songs.

Though I doubt it was their primary aim, Mitchell & Harris carefully observe Rob Gordon’s song order advice with their first three numbers. 🙂 Opening with the bluegrass-tinged “Run From The Ocean,” Anna’s voice and Pat’s lyrics calmly welcome the listener bit by bit, gradually adding each instrument/voice until you finally get the song’s full ensemble halfway through. “New Day” certainly takes it up a notch, offering an upbeat, electric, 90s-pop-rock feel that gets you out of your seat. Then, almost as splitting the difference, the ballad “Home” combines acoustic and electric elements while Anna’s voice gradually grows in intensity, nicely contrasting the restrained solo electric guitar.

Such diversity is a hallmark of this album. For example, the album’s “rockers” all do so differently: “New Day” is optimistic and electric; “The Canyon” reminds one of country rock from decades past; “Lost At Sea” is electric, unapologetic arena rock (and in mixed meter, no less); and “The Overgrown Graveyard” is an example of a hybridized pop-bluegrass that’s often attempted on the airwaves but rarely works (in this case, it does!). Beyond stylistic decisions, the orchestration offers much variety and keeps the listener engaged throughout. Pat, who also served as producer, does a great job of economically showcasing a relatively standard instrumentation, using instruments only when needed and cutting out the sonic fat. Case in point: the violin’s debut in “The Canyon” (track 5) is a welcome timbral change almost halfway through the album, nicely complementing the harmonica and electric guitar. It then doesn’t appear until its cameo four songs later in “Glue,” drunkenly mimicking Anna’s cries, remaining for “Before the Rain” and “The Overgrown Graveyard.” And yet, those songs with violin (or any other auxiliary instrument) don’t stick out as “those fiddle tunes” – all twelve songs are complementary pieces to the same aural pie.

The album’s conclusion is a delightful closing paragraph, summarizing what Traveling By Moonlight is all about. The penultimate “The Overgrown Graveyard” is a bluegrass romp including most of the instruments and sonic elements heard up to that point. And “Waiting For Tomorrow” is an appropriate farewell, distilling the ensemble down to its core – the duo.

It’s been a slightly longer New Listen than normal, but I’m proud of my friends and colleagues for offering up such a quality original contribution. This is a truly independent release, self-funded with everything but the actual packaging process taken care of in-house, making this a great opportunity for everyone to support independent, original music. It’s available today through CD Baby, iTunes, and local Austin retailers, and I highly encourage you to pick yourself up a copy. Mitchell & Harris of course perform in Austin and surrounding areas regularly, but they’ll also be performing in the Midwest in December (and will be joined by yours truly for a couple shows) and in the Northeast and Appalachia in the spring. Consult their website for more information, and check them out if they’re in your area.

And finally, to reference one of this blog’s running themes: pay for what you like. 🙂

Album Links:
CD Baby (CD & MP3)
ATX Podcast (Interview with Pat & Anna, along with some musical previews.)

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