I’ve written about quite a few excellent albums in recent weeks, and I’m pleased to feature yet another outstanding one, this time from UK singer/songwriter and producer Philip Morgan Lewis. The London East Ender just released Grief Harbour, an ambitious undertaking with 13 stellar tracks. Melding alternative rock, blues, garage rock and folk influences, Lewis has created an exciting, bluesy rock sound that complements his unique, raspy vocal style.
Lewis released his debut EP Karma Comedown in 2013 to rave reviews, and received extensive radio support in the UK and US. With Grief Harbour he firmly establishes himself as an extraordinary musician with a lot to say. A talented multi-instrumentalist, he writes and produces his songs and plays most of the instruments, including guitars, banjitar, bass, piano, and percussion. For the album, which was released through Moonalizer Records, he received assistance from Vick E and Little A (his daughter), who supplied backing vocals, as well as Jon Harris on drums, Nick Miles (Neek) as drum session engineer, Rob Updegraff, Charles Slevin and Gavin Bowers (Elêphant) on additional guitar work, Clive Smart on slide guitar, and Ben Jones on bass.
The hard-hitting title track “Grief Harbour” kicks off the album in a big way, with an aggressive pounding drumbeat blasting through the airwaves, letting us know right away that we’re in for a wild sonic ride. A barrage of gritty guitars ensue, along with some down and dirty bass and Lewis’ emotionally-charged, gravelly vocals that grab hold and shake us out of our complacency. Mysterious backing vocals combine with a distorted riff, adding a hint of danger to the track.
Grief harbour population one is a spit on the map at the end of the line
Welcome to desolation lane take a walk down the pier to the Laidback hotel
Grief Harbour Six Feet avenue get a pint at the Fox and just settle your dues
I wanna burn like a thousand suns and set this town on fire if only for one night
I wanna rise like a dying star and set this world alight if only for one night
It’s a fantastic song, and the mesmerizing black and white video shows a shadowy image of Lewis dancing rather seductively in front of the album cover art (which was painted by his father). Not only is he an amazing musician and songwriter, he’s also a pretty good dancer!
And speaking of dance, you can’t help but move when listening to the sultry “Seven Deadly,” or “Six Foot Tambourine,” with its irresistibly catchy driving beat that aims straight for the hips. Layers of gritty guitars and a heavy buzzing bass line are driven by a thumping drumbeat as Lewis implores the lyrics that speak of a recurring nightmare:
A Six foot tambourine came down crashing on me
As I lay down in the tube somebody’s loading me
My feet are cold I can’t breathe but now I see
Though the nurse is kinky I’d rather she would let me be
Stay out of my head. I’d rather be dead
Stay out of my head, ain’t already dead
It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. Lewis has produced interesting and provocative videos for a number of songs on Grief Harbour, and posted them on YouTube just prior to the album’s release. Here’s the one for “Six Foot Tambourine”:
“Swing By Your House” is an emotional plea to a friend who’s thinking of killing themself, followed by the gorgeous and haunting “Foxes On Red Leaves,” a standout track and my absolute favorite on the album. The powerful, bluesy track soars with layers of jaw-dropping guitar work that goes from shredded to chiming to jangly to wailing, bringing chills from start to finish. Lewis captivates us with beautiful piano work and impassioned vocals about trying to hold it together and not lose your mind, seeking relief by self medicating with drugs:
Am I losing it babe. Just got a lot on my mind
Foxes on red leaves sink their jaws in my veins
As they go for the kill and I can feel no pain
Foxes on red leaves keep on calling for more
As I roll up my sleeve I shall fear them no more
A break from the heavy subject matter arrives with “Laidback Hotel, ” a delightful, bouncy track with honky tonk piano, lively guitars and snappy drums. Next up is the rousing ear worm “Karma Comedown 2.0,” a reworking of a track from the Karma Comedown EP. The blues-infused rock song has an infectious foot-stomping dance beat guaranteed to have you on your feet and swaying your hips.
“Phantom Pain” is a bluesy folk anthem with hard rock overtones. Buzzing bass and assertive percussion, replete with an abundance of crashing cymbals, provide a sturdy backdrop for layers of acoustic and electric guitar and some fine piano keys. Another favorite is “GYB (Got You Babe),” a sexy head-banger of a tune with a pulse-pounding beat and incredible bluesy guitar work that’s so good it brings goosebumps. I love songs like this with a powerful driving beat. The fantastic video features Lewis playing guitar and stomping his feet all over London, with his little daughter making a few appearances.
“Whistleblower” delivers more foot-stomping goodness and bluesy guitars, with powerful lyrics urging us to rise up and speak out against tyranny:
Would you talk would you tell it all
Would you face the nation and be the whistleblower
When dirt hits the fan there’s a place and a time for you to rise
There’s no rest for the wicked and the whistleblower
The bluesy gospel-sounding “Sinner” serves up some tasty distorted guitar work, while “Don’t Care if You Don’t Mind” is a pleasing, romantic folk ballad. Closing out the album is “Bring Down Heaven,” a powerful five-minute-long anthem. Lewis employs all kinds of instrumentation – piano, shredded and screaming guitars, heavy bass, synths, and aggressive percussion, not to mention the sound of a thundershower – creating a melodically complex hard rock song with a gospel vibe. That takes some skill, something he has in abundance.
Grief Harbour is a brilliant, meticulously-crafted album, and one that Lewis should be very proud of. His heavy, blues-infused style of rock is among the finest I’ve heard, and a testament to his incredible musicianship.