A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to visit George at his home in Southeast Michigan and to play a couple of songs with George. He was then on what would turn out to be the thankfully waning end of a too-long hiatus from music, so I was thrilled to know he’d started playing again and that I could be there to share it.
George has been making music for most of his life, and it’s nothing short of a genuine delight to hear him singing, and playing, and writing, better than ever. I’m a long-time friend and fan and have played with George in a few bands, what now seems like ages ago, so all these things comprise — and some might argue compromise — my objective prism, but so be it. I’ll speak the truth as I hear it.
The album’s title, “In My Element,” is a clear double-entendre of how George Heritier feels about where he is with his life and his music, and the vehicle he drives between his home and the places he performs. In truth, and with all apologies to Honda, this album just might be the vehicle that has so clearly driven George in this positive and purposeful direction.
Throughout this latest recording, his original music is featured and well presented. The only cover, so called, is “Michigan-I-O,” which George has smartly spun into a simple and traditional a capella, which perfectly frames his gorgeous voice through three modulations, in a compelling and stirring performance.
In the best traditions of folk music, George’s songs evoke personal experiences and historical events, and George certainly has had some experiences, let me tell you. But the experiences of which he sings so truthfully here, while almost mundane when taken literally, are made to seem so much more meaningful, so much more heartfelt in his hands and within his voice. These arrangements are as near to the folk tradition as one could hope, are exactly all that’s necessary for each song, and when accompaniment and backing vocals are used, they feature David Mosher on several traditional instruments, as well as Bill Arnold on dobro, providing simple support to George’s already ample foundations.
Throughout this work, George’s sense of humor and love of word play are clearly on display as his songwriting just gets better and better. His guitar playing is solid and strong and his 12-string sings along with chords so thick and lush they fairly flow from the speakers. Over the years, George has developed a love of and an appreciation for yodeling, and, albeit sparsely used on “In My Element,” it’s used to good effect. When you see him in person, please encourage George to yodel more. His voice was made for it.
But it’s George’s harp playing that has always sent shivers through me, that I’ve long felt to be his greatest strength, and his harp playing on this effort is just so fine. What will remain one of my best memories was produced one beautiful July Michigan evening, sitting on a beach, listening to George sing and play harmonica out across the lake, song after song after song.
I told George right then that I would love to play on his upcoming recording, but what he’s accomplished with “In My Element” is, I believe, a work exactly as he envisioned it, using exactly the instruments required for this vision, playing exactly how and what his songs deserve, all resulting in exactly what George needed to do to make this recording special, and it is special.
Just as with the wines he knows so well from his years of writing about and tasting them for Gang of Pour, George’s tasteful work here will age beautifully and taste even better with time. Yes, I’m biased, and I unashamedly recommend this album.
Dear George… I’ll look forward to seeing you again soon, to playing with you again soon, and to hearing subsequent releases, which can’t come soon enough. Well done, my friend.