Reincarnation Blues by J R Harbidge is a beautifully melancholic album about depression, grief, and spirituality. These themes are explored through an alt-country, Americana styling which gives a rhythm and beauty to the complex tones throughout the album. It manages to maintain these deeply affecting themes while also not feeling overly dark or hopeless. It’s that light at the end of the tunnel, peeking through in tracks like High Hopes that makes the album work so brilliantly.
The first track Reincarnation Blues follows the story of someone going through the cycle of birth and death over and over, failing to learn or even remember their last life. That cyclical and existential horror is bathed in a warm and sympathetic Americana style that elevates the theme through its contrast. I specifically like the guitar trills used at the start that help to build on the already established melody while also working as a call and response to the vocals at points throughout the track.
It’s the second track, Hard, that shows off the excellent vocal performance from Harbidge. Focusing on the theme of grief, there is a real emotional edge to the delivery during the song that adds to the already potent lyrics. You get the sense that it is being sung from the heart which makes it that much more powerful. The line about not wanting to turn off their partner’s alarm feels especially meaningful, connecting wider emotions of grief to an individual, down-to-earth moment.
The tone of the album changes up towards the middle, having a more energetic vibe. While still tackling serious themes, tracks like Don’t Pass Me By have a more positive spin on them. Although it covers the story of depression in a partner, there is this sense of togetherness. The speaker is expressing that he’s here no matter what, as shown in lines like “I’ll be here when the rain comes.” Being able to write serious themes with a sense of hope is a skill that sets apart J R Harbidge’s style of composition. That energy is continued in High Hopes with a more traditional rock sound and a bright, shiny timbre to match.
The last couple of tracks feel like a culmination of the light and dark covered throughout the whole album. Drowning In The Dark, as you may have suspected from the title, is not a happy track but it seems as if the final two tracks answer the questions presented about grief, sadness, and corruption presented in that song and the whole album. The messages of taking life day by day, praying for a brighter future, and taking the bad with the good in one beautiful package unite these final few tracks and tie together the album thematically.
It’s a big pet peeve of mine when albums with serious themes have no conclusion about the challenges they've covered. It's nice to see a cohesive culmination of the album's struggles in these tracks that puts all of the suffering in the context of growth.