Harps come up a lot when talking about rock and roll. In the mid-‘60s Bob Dylan brought the harp to the masses. The harp was soon adopted from everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Stevie Wonder. Currently, younger groups like Wilco to My Morning Jacket are bringing the harp mantle to a new generation. This isn’t surprising – pick a harp in the right key and there are no bum notes!
If you haven’t already figured it out, this is the mouth harp we’re talking about, the harmonica. When writing about rock music, the clarification hardly needs to be made. No rock band features an actual harp!
No rock band except Rey Fresco, that is. “Features” is the right word too, for this is no mere press-baiting novelty. This SoCal reggae-rock quartet performs the mean feat of putting harpist Xocoyotzin Moraza front and center. It wasn’t long into Rey Fresco’s funky set at Manhattan’s Living Room Tuesday night before you wondered why more bands don’t feature harps.
Part of the reason may be that harpists as skilled as Moraza are hard to come by. The all-wood 36-string instruments he plays come handmade from his father, with custom strings capable of handling Moraza’s flying fingers as they leap the instrument’s five octaves. Though when he plays chords it veers a little close to the steel drum, Moraza generally takes on the role most bands would give a lead guitarist.
With his unusual instrument it’s safe to say Moraza was the focus of much of the small crowd’s attention, but lead singer Roger Keiaho refused to let himself get upstaged. Keiaho’s soulful yelp pierced through the pretty melodies, giving the smooth vibes a set of balls solely lacking from most music that comes within ten feet of reggae. By the time the band closed with a cover of Compay Segundo’s “Chan Chan,” they had accomplished the most impressive feat at all: making the harp seem a perfectly normal rock instruments.
Austin’s Matt the Electrician stripped away the surfer-party vibe, his loner woodsman beard drawing instant attention as he quietly sang songs inspired by family members. “That was for my son,” he said after finishing “Animal Boy.” “All parents know that when you give one child something you have to give the other something of exactly equal value. So this one’s for my daughter.”
His daughter may have gotten the short shrift in the end – the first tune was longer –but hopefully she forgave pop. It’s not every dad who can open a set with two tunes played on a ukulele-banjo. Novelty Instrument Night at the Living Room came to a close when he picked up an acoustic guitar, his main axe, but his note-perfect whistling solos kept the unusual in the fore.
While Matt avoided the covers which have garnered him some recognition (he has an excellent new one of Journey’s “Faithfully”), his quirky originals about his cat and Japan kept the small crowd’s attention as he warbled and whistled his way through winsome songs. “Divided By” of his new Animal Boy sounded like a less-sarcastic Randy Newman and “Osaka in the Rain” made him seem an ideal candidate for Lost in Translation II. Matt’s career as an electrician may be behind him, but Matt the Musician is just picking up speed.