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Dhani Harrison: Here Comes the Rising Son

Dhani Harrison

Album cover to Harrison’s new CD.

Father and son, 1999.

At age 39, Dhani Harrison is creating a legacy of inventive and innovative music. Being the rising son of the “quiet Beatle,” George Harrison, has not inhibited him from the creative growth required to be a vital independent artist in his own right.

Harrison’s musical career began in 2002 when he finished his father’s final album, Brainwashed, a year after his death. Upon knowing his cancer was terminal, George Harrison left Dhani and Jeff Lynne with detailed notes on how to finish the album. During the time of his father’s decade of work on Brainwashed, Dhani Harrison grew from a child to an adult. It was the bridge between father and son. The project became their long good-bye and a rarely experienced joy. It was, as C.S. Lewis once described, “a severe mercy.”

For Dhani Harrison, working on the completion of his father’s album became his training ground and foundation for his formation as a songwriter and recording artist. The album became a mortal bridge that passed between the love of this unique father and son relationship.

In October of 2017, Dhani Harrison released his first solo album, In///Parallel. It carries a modern pop-techno sound that is expertly laced with an original psychedelic sensibility. The approach keeps the vision of the album pushing away from certain music, especially for those who may be hearing Harrison for the first time minus the usual Beatle context.

Fifteen years after beginning his musical career, he is taking risks with this album. This is not a departure. Harrison has done this on all previous releases. On In///Parallel Harrison launches music under his own name with confidence as he builds on rock, textured ambient music with an Indian flare, and disco-focused techno-pop. The music is held together by Dhani Harrison’s songwriting, which draws a great influence from his father’s experimental nature. The son is coming up, but not from the direction many would expect.

So, beware, if you’re not a fan of these pop-rock-techno-world music forms; the listener may feel out of the loop. With patient listening, the traditionalist rockers will soon hear a glorious, seamless tapestry cumulation of all the music that has led Harrison this far into his career. What musically and magically materializes is a clear aural landscape that is based on the psychedelic rock of the 1960s, with layer upon layer of innovative studio turns that are as innovative as they are integrated. The resulting sound is uniquely Dhani Harrison’s own brand.

The haunting element of this work is the near identical vocals of Harrison’s with his father’s voice. The physical resemblance is there as well. But, it is the musical orientation that is most intriguing on In///Parallel. The most significant influence he draws from George is the adventurous musical spirit, which is the inspired foundation Dhani Harrison’s debut solo album rests upon. This is not George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” or “Something.” In///Parallel’s influence comes from Revolver’s “Love to You” and Sgt Peppers’ “Within You, Without You.”

However, it is most closely linked to George’s 1998 debut solo album (and the first solo album to be released by the four Beatles), Wonderwall Music. Similar elements are present on this album in modern-day context. In///Parallel deserves to sit side-by-side with his father’s most experimental album as a bookend to Wonderwall Music. Dhani Harrison has added sonic layer on top of layer to create a beautiful masterful album, both experimental and accessible, providing the listener is not on a quest for a replication of his Beatle father.

Dhani Harrison’s roots in music performance came to fruition with George Harrison’s final Grammy-winning Brainwashed. After the 2002 release, he wisely chose not to pursue a solo career. Rather, for the last 15 years he has collaborated in live performance and in the studio with the veterans and musical friendships he formed along the way. His on-stage debut began, aptly enough, with A Concert for George, organized by Eric Clapton and including Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Ravi Shankar, Tom Petty, and Billy Preston. This was for many the first time seeing Harrison perform in the public eye. The resemblance was stunning for many, prompting McCartney to repeat a backstage conversation he had with Harrison’s wife. Olivia said that with Dhani up on stage, it looks like George stayed young and we all got old.

In 2004, Harrison onstage found himself on stage with Prince, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and Prince at George Harrison’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The same year, Harrison appeared onstage with Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, Prince, and others for a performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” during his father’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

The collaborations continued proving to be his own training ground for a future solo career. In 2006, he appeared on Liam Lynch’s Podcast Variety Show. This led to performing “Gimme Some Truth,” with Jakob Dylan on the John Lennon tribute album Instant Karma.

For years there has been talk about two unreleased Travelin’ Wilburys songs by Ayrton Wilbury (aka Dhani Harrison) recorded with his elder Wilbury family. The pseudonym, Ayrton, is a nod to George Harrison’s love of race-car driving and drivers. Dhani’s Wilbury name came from world champion driver, Ayrton Senna, who died in a fatal crash in 1994.

In 2006, Harrison’s debut band, the ironically named, thenewno2, went into the studio. The result is a confident blend of techno and rock ‘n’ roll. It was a debut that showed promised and began to lay the ground for the direction his music would begin toward. By 2012, thenewno2, became a minimalist techno band, heavy on live percussion with electronic overlays and vocals run through with with effects.

Harrison also collaborated with the edgy and bold Stanton City hip-hop group, Wu-Tang Clan, when they translated “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” into “My Heart Gently Weeps”from a sampling of the original song. Out of respect Dhani was brought in to play rhythm guitar on the sessions. The move may have put off Beatles fans, but for Dhani Harrison and those who listened, it was another adventurous collaboration that helped to expand the world of George Harrison’s music.

Dhani Harrison’s second band brought him into the world of singer-songwriters and roots music as he joined Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur, forming Fistful of Mercy. Harper ran into Harrison at a Santa Monica skate park, which led to an invitation from Ben Harper to participate in a studio project with Joseph Arthur. Their first album was well received upon release. Essentially, it is a folk-rock album, full of harmonies and acoustic guitars. A second album is pending release this year.

With his musical exploration, it does seem that Dhani always manages to return back to George Harrison. It is a pedigree he neither denies or exploits. Often, the son or daughter of a great artist lives in the shadows of their legendary parents. Many of these artists break loose and find their own voice and sense of musical being. Fortunately, Dhani Harrison represents the latter. Throughout his 15 years of work in music, he has broken out of the mold and many fans and music executives would like to keep him in as he is shaped into the son of a Beatle.

But, like his father, he is bound to take chances, experiment, and step into new musical soundscapes. This has been his path since he took his first step onto a concert stage. It is a road that was paved for him by George Harrison. You can almost hear George advising his son: “Don’t be a Beatle.”
This album may help to bring Dhani Harrison to a wider audience. But, it’s doubtful that much will change in his musical direction. There will be comfort for many Beatles fans of all generations with the physical and vocal resemblance to George. Indeed, it is impossible to split the two of them. It is as if George and Dhani Harrison are two parts of the same soul. But, for anyone looking for an extension of the Beatles, In///Parallelmay prove to be disappointing. For listeners who understand the spirit of the bond between father and son, this album is poetic and daring, as Dhani Harrison steps out of the shadows and into the light of day with his father’s love and the soul of a true artist.

Dhani Harrison performs at the Belly Up on Monday, November 27, 8pm, 143 S. Cedros in Solana Beach.

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