The lesser-seen avant-garde side of music is definitely full of weird stuff that defies the conventions of music and sometimes even approaches the level of taboo. And then there’s stuff that’s just…weird. Enter Clay Harper‘s Old Airport Road. Known for his independent pizzeria in Atlanta, Harper has dabbled in music on the side and has emerged with his first solo release in over a decade. He describes it as “somewhat eclectic,” but that’s an understatement.
It’s not really clear what Harper was going for on this record. It seems as if he recorded a handful of great jazz pieces and then threw in some one-off ideas he had thought up while under the influence. The record kicks off with “Ole Ray,” a bluesy number featuring vocals from Sandra Hall that would be downright sexy if they didn’t mainly consist of “hey, motherfucker.” Once the song gets going, though, it’s unmistakable that this is quality stuff from the Georgia underground, complete with fuzzy rhythm guitar and a magnificently honky trumpet. “Beautiful” is a sentimental ballad that showcases Harper’s husky vocals and would fit right in as a slow dance song at a high school prom in an eighties movie. Although a stock groove, it ticks a lot of mellow boxes. And as what might be the high point of the album, “I Can Find You At The Airport” is an eight-minute blues drag with spastic horns and police scanner vocals. It features Col. Bruce Hampton, a collaboration that certifies the song as both a surrealistic odyssey and a classic Atlanta piece. It’s perfect for background music or the Weather Channel while steering into some Twilight Zone territory, ending with some haunting screams.
This is a weak release from Harper. Five out of nine songs feature guest musicians, watering down the originality of his work. It’s more like a well-documented jam session in the back room of his pizzeria. Not to mention that most of the album lyrically seems like a dating ad, from the casual encounter themes of “Ray” to the sex hotline recordings found throughout “Fuck Who You Want.” The most out of place song on the record, “Get That Money” features Spice Girl ripoff lyrics from whoever Slim Red is. The drum machine beats and fake-sounding rock guitar doesn’t help, either.
Without doubt, Harper has reached his goal of an eclectic album, but the lack of cohesiveness and independence kills it. There are some good songs on the album, but they’re beaten to death by the overt sexuality and oddity of the record. This may please some fans of the Craigslist dating section, but for those who stick to bars, it might be best to avoid Old Airport Road.