Songs go on for Keith Harden fans
July 20, 2006
"KEEP YOUR HEART ALWAYS RISING, WAY ABOVE THE GROUND." - KEITH HARDEN, FROM the song "House of Cards."
"My name's Keith Harden. It's good to be back here in Champaign."
And with that intro, Harden, wearing blue jeans, a blue shirt and sandals, launched into a spot-on rendition of a Bob Dylan song about Woody Guthrie under the shaded News-Gazette entertainment tent at the Taste of C-U on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Folks at the show bobbed their heads and clapped enthusiastically as Harden ripped through a slew of songs by classic artists like Johnny Cash, John Prine, Janis Joplin and Son House.
He also playfully bantered with the crowd. The price of gas seems to be an issue of particular concern to Harden right now, but he didn't dwell on the negative by any means. In fact, the blues virtuoso is as nice of a guy as they come.
"It's great to see Champaign-Urbana thriving," Harden said after the show. "The downtown Champaign area is just amazing. People just seem really involved with music and the culture."
Harden would know about thriving music scenes. His place of residence in Geneva, New York, where he lives with his wife, a college professor, allows him easy access to the cultural environments of Rochester, Ithaca and Syracuse. Ithaca especially contains a unique and diverse vibe that Harden said is special.
Keith Harden's name is well-known throughout these parts. He was a C-U resident and played in the Keith Harden Band, a three-piece electric blues outfit that played together for 15 years and sometimes added a harmonica player and keyboardist on stage.
The 54-year-old, baby-faced Harden said his years with the Keith Harden Band were fun but took their toll.
"I'm half deaf," he joked.
These days he keeps it lighter on stage, but Harden remains as dedicated as ever, playing two gigs a week at Rochester's Beale Street Cafe on Tuesdays, the Dinosaur Barbecue every other Monday and performing at various pubs and wineries on weekends. Music is a full-time passion for Harden, who releases his CDs independently. He remains hopeful that a suitable record label will sign him on the dotted line as his career keeps moving forward.
"I would love to get a record label," Harden said, "but it's so competitive and so hard to do."
Harden loves to play old blues songs by other artists for his fans - and his fans love those songs - but it's Harden's original tunes that give the singer-songwriter his unique spark and allow his talents to shine. Harden's There Goes Another Day from 2000 is a gorgeous 12-song masterpiece that, in this writer's opinion, is one of the best albums ever released by a Champaign-Urbana musician. Even Harden ranks it as probably his finest record of the impressive 12 he's put out.
Armed with his usual blend of acoustic guitars and the harmonica, Harden was in a melodic zone when he wrote the songs on There Goes Another Day. He added keyboards, drum programming, a dobro and some "backwards stuff" to give the album its lush flair. Rocky Maffit added percussion. The lyrics on the album are beautiful, reflective and inspiring, plus there are hooks galore.
Harden added a mandolin sound to his 2004 album The Song Goes On, a mostly percussion-free record that features a more country, down-home sound. Some people have told Harden a few of the tunes on The Song Goes On sound like Neil Young.
Interestingly, it's the back half of The Song Goes On that contains the better, more substantial ditties.
Tunes like "Come to My Senses," "The Mountain Song," "When We Used to Play" and "Down by the Water" perfectly capture Harden's majestic acoustic style and heart-wrenching lyrics. It's a shame this stuff isn't being distributed on a wider scale.
Still, part of Harden's appeal to his fans might be his independent spirit. C-U called Harden its own for a long time, and now people in the northeastern part of the United States are getting to do the same thing. Harden is too talented to be stuck in just one place. When he plays the guitar live, it often sounds like there are two people playing instead of one.
Harden explained: "I've been playing solo gigs for so many years; you try to just learn little ways of playing that make it sound complete. Even if you don't play everything that's there, you suggest it kind of, giving it that change-up by doing a little bit of picking and strumming."
The Tolono native returns to C-U twice a year to play live shows, usually during the summer and the holiday season. Harden loves seeing old friends and playing his string of live shows where diehard fans can catch him. A new batch of songs from a fresh album is not uncommon when Harden comes back to Illinois, and rest assured, he always seems to make his way back.
Check out Keith Harden's output of music at www.bpcomp.com/keithharden. Some of Harden's more recent albums are sold at Exile on Main Street in downtown Champaign.
Article by—Sal Nudo
This article was written by Sal Nudo,
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