The second album from Leo Harmonay, The Blink of an Eye, continues this Hudson Valley based singer/songwriter’s steady ascent into the upper echelon of traditional folk and blues performers working today. The eleven track release, naturally, makes Harmonay’s vocals, lyrics, and guitar work the centerpieces for its presentation, but there is an assortment of musical and production touches on this album that helps set it further apart from the typical offerings from this genre. His talents as a writer are considerable and fully-formed; some of the songs are driven much more by narrative while others make an impressionistic impact on the listener thanks to his precise and often quite evocative imagery. The production is quite impressive for an independent release and the tracks are ordered in such a way that the album feels like a larger, structured listening experience rather than just a collection of songs.
The Blink of an Eye opens with “Up to You”, a song that’s a stylish mix of Harmonay’s folk and blues influences. It has a light gloominess surrounding it and unexpected muscle thanks to the straight-ahead march tempo and the relatively unadorned arrangement. There are moments, however, when Harmonay has an almost painterly relationship with the material – the brief instrumental fills bobbing in and out of the mix, including the harmonica, are aural brushstrokes that fill the musical canvas with added colors. “Washing Myself Clean” is reminiscent of that approach. The slant here is much more atmospheric than before and the production reflects that, but the song’s lasting success in this area doesn’t come from the control booth. Instead, Harmonay is his own best tool for pulling this off with his intelligent phrasing and dramatic stresses at key points in the lyric. The pairing of Harmonay’s acoustic guitar with slide guitar gives “Wounds of Love” an appropriately elegiac quality that brings great lyricism to what otherwise might be an uneventful performance. Harmonay’s voice strikes a tone balanced somewhere between wry, slightly rueful humor and true gentleness.
“Gone Are The Days” has much more going on musically than its predecessor. This is mid-tempo blues with electric guitar flare-up punctuating the acoustic foundation of the song. The vocal is double-tracked at a few points in the song, but never in an overbearing way and the vocal reinforcement helps make the chorus more memorable. The ominous air hanging over “In the Morning Light” is quite different from similar turns in mood on the album, but it’s tastefully handled. The electric guitar is used compositionally to bring further color to the song and never overdoes it. Harmonay conjures up a haunted, careful quality with his singing that serves the track well. The album’s title song is one of its most ambitious, but ambition manifests itself on a Leo Harmonay release in unusual ways. One of the abiding qualities he has is the patience and discernment he exhibits through his songwriting. “The Blink of an Eye” develops in unusual, but never showy, ways. The last song on the album, “The Joy in Our Sadness”, might remind some listeners of the earlier “Washing Myself Clean” thanks to its surprising hymnal quality and it certainly brings the album to a thoughtful conclusion befitting what has come before. Few albums this year, in any genre, demonstrate the same cohesion encountered on Leo Harmonay’s The Blink of an Eye.