JP Harris and the Tough Choices at Club Helsinki

Country music gets a bad rap nowadays. For every person who buys a Taylor Swift album there are three people who frown in disgust when one of her songs comes on the radio. I can’t say I blame them for the latter, but I do blame them for thinking that that’s real country. In the words of The Hunger Mountain Boys, “Nashville, don’t touch my country music” (from the band’s song of that name). Authentic country music untainted by Nashville’s current pop overtones warms hearts, wards of the blues, and soaks into your body before the symptoms start to appear. First your mouth curls into a smile. Then you notice your head is bobbing. Finally — and this is when you know you got it bad —  your feet start tapping and, in extreme cases, they take you to the dance floor. JP Harris and the Tough Choices are about as genuine country as you get, and all of this is what they accomplish.

Returning to Club Helsinki for what was the band’s third gig at the venue, JP Harris and the Tough Choices brought dancing, a few tears (they play some real heart-wrenchers), and a whole lot of laughter into the room. Dressed similarly in true romantic cowboy fashion — western shirts, jeans, leather belts with big brass buckles, and cowboy boots (JP’s beard could also quite feasibly be considered part of his ensemble) — the band members make themselves right at home wherever they play and incite a little bit of rowdiness. JP’s songs are full of captivating stories about interesting characters — some auto-biographical, some not — and the musicians are just as adept at finger-splitting, high energy two-steps and swing numbers as they are the more tender slow ballads. Although they do play slow songs, however, one of the many things to like about the band is its avoidance of the overly sentimental, choosing instead to play sweet but sometimes sarcastic slow songs.

JP Harris is a magnetic presence on-stage and his band members aren’t afraid to make fun of him if a particularly inspiring opportunity strikes. JP makes fun of himself too, though, in a confidently self-deprecating way. One example of this was the story he told to introduce a song he wrote on Thanksgiving one year when alone with a bottle of gin, which of course inspired a series of jokes about another guy stuffing his girl’s turkey… Then there was the moment when JP Harris said the next song was ironic but the audience and even his bassist thought he said “erotic,” which was further fueled by JP quipping, “Well, that could be ironic… it is called ‘The Little Things’…”  You get the picture. JP Harris and the Tough Choices are funny guys, and their stage banter with each other and the audience is almost as entertaining as their music. Almost. But don’t just take my word for it, get out and see them! In the meantime, check out the videos: The Little Things and The Day You Put Me Out (And The Bottle Took Me In)

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