The name Mick Harvey hasn’t exactly been as high profile as his bandmate’s, titular vocal hero Nick Cave. However, Harvey has been an integral, if not essential, part of Nick Cave’s musical legacy over the past thirty years. They started together in Melbourne in 1977 playing with Boys Next Door. That group gave way to the seminal music of the Birthday Party, which then, famously, became the Bad Seeds. But he’s not just Cave’s lackey. Harvey has gone on to work with such rock powerhouses as P.J. (no relation) Harvey and Scott Walker, while also becoming a talented producer and soundtrack composer to boot. Those who count themselves amongst Nick Cave’s rabid fan base were already aware of the talent of Mick Harvey, but thanks to a recent pair of solo albums, Harvey’s building a base of his own.
Two of Diamonds isn’t Harvey’s second solo album, as the title might suggest. It’s actually his fourth real solo effort (not including soundtracks, etc.), but it is the second album in which the multi-instrumentalist goes the later Johnny Cash route. On 2005’s One Man’s Treasure, Harvey compiled an album of covers of both favorites and great songs by those with which he has collaborated. Songs by Tim Buckley, Lee Hazlewood, Robbie Fulks and his buddy Nick Cave. Sound familiar? Yeah, it sounds like Johnny Cash’s fantastic American Recordings series, and while maybe not as apocalyptic or poignant, these songs by Harvey are equally as entertaining. Now we are treated to a second collection of covers and a few originals that make up Two of Diamonds. Like Cash’s later recordings, this album is haunting, beautiful and sometimes just makes your hairs stand up on end.
The opener, “Photograph,” originally performed by Brisbane’s the Saints, is just such a song. It’s like a lonely cowboy song in which Harvey almost out-glooms his pal Cave. After a take on Bill Withers’ “I Don’t Want You On My Mind,” Harvey returns with another Australian band tribute with the Loved Ones’ “Sad Dark Eyes.” Harvey handles it with ease (mostly because he and Cave have covered the song often together) and, if nothing else, he makes me want to seek out more music by the ’60s group that attempted to prove they were as good or better than most of the British Invasion stuff back then. If not for a few songs, this album could have easily sparked an `Australian Recordings’ series. Thankfully for us, and no offense to any other Aussie bands, he chose to include some of his American influences including a heartbreaking version of Emmylou Harris’ “Here I Am.” For another dose of great Australian music, listen to James Cruikshank’s “No Doubt.”
Like Cash, Harvey doesn’t just do straightforward `covers.’ Instead, Harvey reinvents these songs in his own inimitable country meets punk meets barroom blues style. This is evident with David McComb’s “Everything is Fixed.” This song is a little Cave, a little Nick Lowe and a little Richard Hawley, but with a whole mess of passion injected into every lyric. “A Walk on the Wild Side” is not Lou Reed’s song of the same name. Instead, it is from the Elmer Bernstein soundtrack for a 1962 film of the same name starring a 25-year-old Jane Fonda as a character named Kitty Twist. Harvey turns the song into a whip-cracking ranch song that you want to sing along with around a campfire. The tributes are rounded out with two personal endeavors and one by a recent star of the Sasquatch festival. First, Mick takes on an obscure P.J. Harvey track, “Slow-Motion-Movie-Star,” which turns out to be absolutely mesmerizing and possibly the best track on the album. Then he plays “Out of Time Man,” a song by Mano Negra, a band that espoused several different styles including the Iggy Pop meets ? and the Mysterians blend of this particular song. Of course, most people would recognize the singer’s name over the band name, that being Manu Chao. Then, Harvey redoes a song from his former band, Crime & the City Solution, called “Home is Far From Here.”
The true standout songs, however, are the two originals penned by Harvey, “Blue Arrows” and, in particular, “Little Star.” Harvey truly shines on these tracks, proving that his own compositions can stand up alongside any of the `classics’ to which he chose to pay tribute. Oddly, they’re the two shortest tracks on the CD. As much as I would love for these numbered quasi-`Australian Recordings’ albums to continue and become as much of a beloved series as Cash’s American equivalent, I would, thanks to these two songs, love to hear an album of all Mick Harvey originals. He’s stepped out of the looming shadow of Nick Cave long enough to take part in a number of different high profile projects, but now it’s time for him to start creating his own shadows.
Richard Hawley- Coles Corner
Johnny Cash- American Recordings
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds- The Boatman’s Call