What I admire most about Fletcher Harrington is how, in spite of the changing currents in pop music, he has remained true to himself since making a minor splash on the OC alt-country/roots-rock scene when he formed Cowboy Buddha 12 years ago. With influences ranging from Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash to the Replacements and the Minutemen, this imaginative singer/songwriter is a master storyteller who recreates the mystery and pathos of the Old West in such songs as "The Ghost in the Choir," "With a Gun to My Head," and "Oklahoma Shotgun Bath."
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Harrington's latest solo release, Under the Shadow of the San Gabriel, offers more darkly-tinged tales of longing, love-won-and-lost and redemption. His voice, a reedy, thin warble, is definitely an acquired taste. But the effort is worth it—c'mon, do you really want a polished voice singing about whores, horse thieves, bibles and guns? And the imperfect vocals are particularly well-suited to the somber "After the Hanging of the Tall Pine Gang," one of my favorite cuts from the new album.
So while American Idol champions the manufacturing of music for the masses, Harrington—with like-minded pals in his band, including guitarist Brit Collins, bassist Tim Mullin and drummer Tim Haydu—prefer creating an authentic, timeless sound uniquely their own. This American music can be quietly acoustic and introspective, or more upbeat, electric and rockin'. Either way, this sound and style was not made to satisfy everyone. It's too genuine, and a bit too unusual, for that.
In other words, the Tustin-based Harrington knows who he is, and that it's certainly okay to attract a small yet loyal following with more discriminating tastes. Stick with it, friend.
Fletcher Harrington & Cowboy Buddha with the Missiles of October and Michael Ubaldini at the OC Pavilion, 801 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 550-0550; www.ocpavilion.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $20-$25. All ages.