Mic Harrison says his new album with the High Score, On the Right Side of the Grass, is his "feel-good record."
"I got tired of making records that make you want to slit your wrists," he says, nursing both a Jack and Coke and a bottle of Budweiser on a Gay Street patio. "I'll still throw a death song in there, but with all the shit that's out there, somebody's got to make you feel good. I hope that's me. But I will only go so far."
On the Right Side of the Grass isn't exactly sunny—like most of Harrison's work, it's full of losers and reprobates who drink too much, work too hard (or not hard enough), and end up with the wrong women. But it is an upbeat record, and as country as anything he's done since the V-Roys' debut, Just Add Ice. You can tell from the cover, a take-off of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson's 1978 album Waylon & Willie, featuring an illustration of the band that resembles a big old redneck belt buckle. That spirit's borne out on the disc, too, which starts off with the barreling, Skynyrd-like "Satan Lives in Arkansas" and the flashy twang of "He Gets High." Then there's the bouncing "Never Gonna Drink Again" ("I'm never gonna drink again today") and the classic honky tonk of "I Get the Booze."
"It's been heading that way ever since Pallbearer's Shoes," Harrison says. "I think a couple of songs kind of went into the full-blown country realm. I went on down that road. The last record, Push Me on Home, was country, too, but not as country as this one."
Harrison started writing the songs for Right Side last year, when he and the High Score were still on the road supporting Push Me on Home. The songs came quick—one of them, the rollicking and autobiographical "Leaving Gibson County," a highlight of the album, was left over from years ago—and recording took place over two weeks at the end of February and beginning of March at Don Coffey Jr. Independent Recorders studio.
"It didn't take long on either end," Harrison says. "‘Gibson County' is an old song. The V-Roys planned to do it but never got around to it."
Harrison hooked up with the High Score for 2007's Push Me on Home, his third solo release, but his relationship with the band goes back to about 2001. High Score guitarist Robbie Trosper had been in Harrison's first post-V-Roys band, the Faults. After that, Harrison spent time in Superdrag. Since Superdrag called it quits in 2003, Harrison's solo career has been rolling along at a steady pace, even if he's never regained the high profile he had with his previous bands—three solo albums, consistent touring, coverage in regional magazines, and gigs at Bonnaroo, SXSW, and Mucklewain.
Trosper and the rest of the band—drummer Brad Henderson and bassist Vance Hillard, with help from pianist and horn player Michael Webb and pedal steel guitarist Brock Henderson—avail themselves admirably on Right Side's honky-tonk shuffle, which is a departure from the High Score's straight-ahead hard rock. Harrison's been obsessed with classic country lately, Charley Pride and Roger Miller and Waylon and Willie. It's pushed him to emphasize parts of his songwriting that have always been present but never quite so openly apparent. But he's not sure if he'll head in this same direction next time.
"Hell, I love it," he says. "But after the run for this record's over, I may love something else. You never know."