Erik Hartley – Not Me Being Nervous (2010)

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by Nick DeRiso

Erik Hartley can’t decide about things, and that uncertainty creates an interesting tension on the new EP Not Me Being Nervous.

The in-joke ends up being that he’s anything but “not nervous.” Hartley, instead, couldn’t be less settled, with looming questions about girls, about life, about getting back some piece of himself after the day’s many small indignities.

No surprise, then, that the Boston-based guitarist works alone here, fashioning a sound that’s somewhere between the me-generation singer-songwriter genre of the 1970s and a lightly grooved Motown sound.

These are talks best held with oneself, in the confessional style of Marvin Gaye and John Lennon. Hartley isn’t afraid to do that, and luckily he flips a switch on the recorder along the way.

“I Know,” from which Hartley’s three-song release gets its title, is one of those internal conversations. Here, he’s a guy trying to let go of a bad relationship, and not having much luck: “OK, so maybe I’m just acting out,” Hartley sings, over an uncertain solo guitar signature. “You can come in, but you stay on the couch.”

Hartley’s got a sugar-smoke voice that sells both the lazy romance, and the deeper pain, of this lyric.

Even when things seem to be breaking his way, however, Hartley remains the reluctant troubadour, loath to let go.

“Kisses in the Rain,” which opens with a riff reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” finds Hartley’s character lost in a late-night dance. The jukebox light illuminates just how far gone he is with this mysterious, brown-eyed wayfarer. “I was waiting on the kisses in the rain,” he sings and it almost sounds like a lament, “because I know that you’ll be back again.”

Hartley suggests skipping the dancing all together, forgetting about the games. It’s easy to see how things might go a different way, however, with Hartley’s character again left alone. His languid vocal, and quietly vacillating strums, betray a kind of here-we-go again resignation, even during a new relationship’s bright sensual beginnings.

“This Old Ride,” meanwhile, quickly settles into a quickening pace as Hartley grows impatient in the empty bustle of a party that’s lasted a bit too long. “I’m wondering, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’,” Hartley sings, though the answers don’t come easy.

So, it’s off to the car. Images flash by, as he heads out. He considers stopping at a bar, but doesn’t. Before long, he realizes that he’s most at home settled back in front of that dashboard glow, grasping the wheel and travelling. Hartley’s character clings to that isolation, to that indecision, and mulls things over to the point of then turning it into a conversation about why he can’t decide, setting a theme that defines Not Me Being Nervous.

Hartley is determined to take this world’s modern ennui and turn it into a meaningful dialogue. It’s a twist on that old saw about seizing the day.

With Not Me Being Nervous, Hartley uses his inner turmoil as a walking stick toward a musical vista. He’s not sure where he’s headed, but he’s enjoying this journey.

Call it Erik Hartley’s carpe-don’t-know moment.

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