The Dave Harris Project is a collaborative music project based around songwriter, multi-instrumental musician and producer Dave Harris, who wrote (or co-wrote) and co-produced all the tracks on the album. He has written with artists such as Julian Lennon, Rob Thomas (Matchbox Twenty) and Grammy winner Rick Springfield (who co-wrote the first track). In fact, there’s a huge roll-call of famous writers and musicians involved in this project, as shall emerge…
The lead vocals on the album are performed by Michael J. Willett, who is also an actor, currently starring in MTV’s Faking It. Possessed with a strong, distinctive voice and remarkable vocal range, these songs showcase his abilities to the max. The music is quite varied from track to track, but there’s a definite leaning to the sound and style of 80’s and 90’s rock/pop. The songs are all extremely well-crafted and arranged, with pristine production.
Things get off to a blistering start with the incendiary opening track Git Ready (co-written with Rick Springfield) which opens with a catchy ‘woo-hoo’ vocal chant. It progresses to a sparse verse of lead vocals with a crunchy, driving guitar riff, before adding harmonies on the bridge. This leads to an explosive chorus, with an insistent title hook that immediately lodges in the memory, it’s impact aided by tumbling tom-toms and synths.
After a second verse and chorus, there’s a great middle eight before driving the chorus home to the close. The whole production is unashamedly 80’s with the synths and guitar sounds, and sheer hugeness of the chorus. It’s the perfect instant pop song to start the album and suitable as a single.
Second track In Love Alone is similar in sound, though more like the 90’s pop of someone like Kelly Clarkson or the boyband-with-guitars sound of American-influenced UK groups Busted/McFly. It’s high quality rock/pop that you can imagine being on a film soundtrack, with an understated but memorable chorus.
You’re Easy To Love (Sara’s song) is much simpler, only a piano and lead vocal, aided by one harmony on the chorus. It’s the perfect showcase for Willett’s exceptional voice, with a gorgeous vocal melody and chord progression. He displays his remarkable falsetto for the first time on the chorus, and though over four minutes is long for a sparse ballad, it is so melodic and well-crafted that it doesn’t drag at all.
Fourth track Go! is one of my favourites on the album, an immensely enjoyable fusion of E.L.O. and the Bee Gees that contains an irresistible chorus. Willett brings out the falsetto once again, with a chorus melody so high it makes Barry Gibb sound like Paul Robeson, but it works perfectly, as do the thick wall of vocal harmonies. The 70’s vibe is nailed by a guitar solo that is so Queen-esque that you suspect it had to be played by Brian May – it was! It’s a great cameo from the nimble-fingered legend.
Live A Little strips it back again, consisting of just lead vocals and harmonies with a ukelele being lightly strummed in the background. The vocal arrangement is superb and it’s a sweet song that provides a nice contrast after the sonic hand grenade of the previous track. Next comes Surrender (co- featuring Jon Secada on vocals) , which is an emotionally powerful 80’s style piano ballad that brought to mind Richard Marx. The strings at the end are highly effective, another track seemingly destined for a film soundtrack.
The next two songs take us back to the mid-80s synth-pop style and production with Prima Donna being another very catchy and commercial track, though the lyrics made me cringe a little at times (“you’re so pretty, but you’re shitty inside….”). Burning Desire is one of the album highlights for me, a slow-building sultry verse leading to a chorus with the falsetto back again, but this time channelling Prince circa Kiss. A definite potential single.
All Mine comes next, a well-crafted and arranged piece of retro-pop that brought to mind McFly with it’s 50’s/60’s style backing harmonies and some more old-school electric guitar courtesy of Brian May. Cathy is another classy piano ballad (co-written with none other than the late, great Robin Gibb, whose influence is all over the album) that suits Willett’s voice particularly well and the sort of emotive song his female fanbase will adore.
The Ride is more high quality pop, though the hook didn’t latch in my mind as quickly as many of the others. All Night Long, Pt.4 takes us back to the sensual theme of Burning Desire, but this time in the vein of 70’s disco, with a Bee Gees-esque arrangement including Stayin’ Alive-style melodic string lines. These kind of more earthy songs act as a nice contrast to the lighters-in-the-air ballads.
Better Part Of Me, track thirteen, is another fun 80’s pastiche replete with quirky synth noises and effects, leading to the big finale of Not Over You, a duet with Katie Stevens (co-written with Rob Thomas). She is the perfect female counterpart to Willett’s voice, the vocal blend works like a dream. It’s another epic ballad that tugs at the heartstrings, and the way the key changes as it goes into the guitar solo is a nice touch. It’s the most emotionally powerful and memorable ballad on the album, a great way to finish.
Overall, this is a hugely enjoyable album where the songwriting, performances and production are all of a very high quality. The consistency of the material is something most albums cannot compete with, and any number of songs could be suitable as singles. I think the success of this album will be huge provided it gets enough exposure, as it contains the kind of classic pop that people love but don’t hear enough of in the charts these days.
Alex Faulkner (The Faulkner Review)
Verdict: 8.9 out of 10