All Photos By Lou Montesano
By Peter Jurew
In 2012, Sony Music Masterworks, the esteemed recording label of Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell, tapped music business veteran Chuck Mitchell as Senior Vice President with a charge to develop “eclectic, quality music beyond the mainstream.” With the recent signing of Tall Heights, the Boston-based indie duo the label categorizes as progressive folk, Mitchell appears to be delivering in a big way.
Formed and fronted by Tim Harrington on acoustic and electric guitars and vocals and Paul Wright on electrified cello and vocals, Tall Heights began around 2010 as a latter-day, Boston-based Simon & Garfunkel. Attracting ardent fans on the Beantown streets, they’ve become road warriors in major and minor university towns and gained exposure on college radio and streaming services. The pair is now moving up to the big leagues, and it’s clear why Sony Music Masterworks is solidly behind them. Whether live or on their recordings, Tall Heights has evolved into an exceptional ensemble that produces an exquisite sound on eclectic, original tunes.
To celebrate the upcoming release of Neptune, Tim and Paul’s first effort for the Masterworks label, Sony Music hosted an intimate event at New York’s Gibson Showroom, a guitar player’s fantasyland tucked inside the historic midtown Manhattan building that once housed the legendary Hit Factory recording studio. The invited audience included industry executives, friends of the band and fans, all of whom are pulling for Tall Heights to break through. The eight-song set provided a generous sampling of the new album, scheduled for release on August 19th, as well as two songs from the 2015 EP, Holding On, Holding Out, that will be re-released on Neptune.
Vocals are what draw the listener into the music: rich, high male harmonies that soar into falsetto. The core of the sound is Harrington’s acoustic guitar aided and colored by Wright’s cello– chesty bowings and pluckings sent through an array of effects pedals. One of the recent expansions of the Tall Heights sound is percussionist Paul Dumas, who adds a world-beat grounding to the pristine voices, and is appearing on the band’s current tour through November.
Tim Harrington introduced “Infrared” by saying, “of all the songs on the new album, we feel this one came out best.” Listeners might lobby for their personal favorites, but the tune certainly represents a departure from Tall Heights’ more straightforward folk-style, with keyboards and bass dipping into electronica in ways that echo Brian Eno’s ambient feel.
Lyrically introspective, the songs of Harrington and Wright offer insights about love and life with poetic depth. “Two Blue Eyes” observes “the lonely pyre of our youth” while “Spirit Cold” ponders the paradox of aging. “Spirit Cold” is slated as the album’s first single, and it’s easy to hear why the song is already receiving plenty of attention on terrestrial and streaming audio. It’s an immediately winning combination of finger-picked acoustic guitar, golden-toned cello and lush harmonies delivering a captivating melody.
As Harrington and Wright wrapped up to rapturous applause, it’s fair to wonder if Tall Heights or any other big talents out there today can become a true classic in the age of ninety-nine cent downloads. How do artists scale the heights of a near-dystopian entertainment ecosystem and reach the audience they deserve? Electric cello and Simon & Garfunkel vocals are not top of mind in today’s music scene, but related “progressive folk” acts like Mumford and Sons, Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens have managed to navigate the musical shoals and achieve critical and commercial success. Anyone exposed to Tall Heights will immediately take to their music. Maybe social media-savvy music fans will push them through, but until then we should all simply enjoy the fresh, intricate and introspective sound of Tall Heights.