Tony Harnell & The Wildflowers feat. Bumblefoot, Tony Harnell & The Wildflowers feat. Bumblefoot
I’m relatively new to Tony Harnell. I’d heard of TNT back in the day, but they never made it to my listening radar for one reason or another. The first time I heard him sing was mid-2012, when I bought the self-titled Starbreaker album, a collaboration with Swedish guitarist Magnus Karlsson. Released in 2005, it was already several years old, but I’d recently discovered Karlsson and was making my way through all of his various projects.
When I got to Starbreaker, I was floored. Who was this guy that could so easily segue from a voice that soothes to a scream like a banshee? Being the obsessive-compulsive I am, I investigated (while listening to Starbreaker over and over), and up to speed on this Tony Harnell guy. Needless to say, I bought the second Starbreaker album, too. And then I bought his Mercury Train release, Round Trip, which included acoustic reworkings of some of his older songs from TNT and Westworld (plus a couple of covers).
Even though I was unfamiliar with the originals, the acoustic arrangements stood alone. I loved it. Tony could sing anything he put his mind to, and not just well — but mind-blowingly well. By this time, I had to admit, I’d become a full-blown fan.
So, when I found out Tony was doing a PledgeMusic campaign in the latter part of 2012, I jumped on it. I figured, this guy knows how to make an album, regardless of genre. And I was right. During the six months that followed, I checked out each demo he posted, and got less and less patient. It was all sounding so good. He was continuing the acoustic sound, but this time with original compositions.
I am not normally a fan of acoustic music, I’ll admit. I like the guitars to be plugged in and played loud. On the other hand, I also appreciate musicianship. Good music is good music, period. When I finally got the email with the link to download the entire digital album, I put it on my iPod and didn’t stop listening for a week. I’m still listening to it regularly, a couple of months later.
Speaking of musicianship, Tony has surrounded himself with an amazing group of musicians on this album. Tony’s wife, Amy, and Jason Hagen had both worked with him on the Round Trip album, so they were a known quantity. Amy harmonizes wonderfully with Tony, and Jason is quite the guitarist and songwriter (he co-wrote four of the six original compositions on here).
I’d never heard of Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal or Cassandra Sotos, however. The album cover says “featuring Bumblefoot,” so I figured he had to a big deal. When I learned he was the guitarist for the current incarnation of Guns ‘N Roses, I have to admit, I wasn’t necessarily excited. But when I heard his playing and harmonizing on this album, I became a fan. (Of his, not GNR…just sayin’.) Bumblefoot is one seriously talented musician, and he and Tony sound great together. For her part, Cassandra proves that Kansas isn’t the only band that can rock a violin.
When acoustic music is played and arranged on the level you’ll hear on this album, its power is undeniable. Add Tony’s otherworldly voice and some truly thoughtful lyrics, and you’ve got a little bit of music heaven. It manages to actually be an acoustic rock album, not just a bunch of songs with lazy strumming. You can hear the talent just oozing out of the speakers when you play it.
To drive this point home, one of the songs is a cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” and Tony nails it without sounding like he’s even trying hard. A friend of mine who listened to it said, “Okay, now he’s just showing off.” Probably, but that’s okay with me.
I can almost guarantee you will love this. I’ve played it for multiple friends, all of whom have very different musical tastes, and each one of them loved it. If there were any justice in the world of modern radio, this album would blow away the competition. If you’re still not sure, buy either “Paralyzed” or “Devil of a Healer” as a standalone track, and see if you don’t end up begging for more.