Harney County






GRCD/LP/Digital 785


Nothing Left To Hate
The Carnival Smoke
Requiem For The Old Skool Heavy
Katy Cruel
Sound Of No Return
Many Moons
Rock Springs
Ghosts Along The Border




I first came to Harney County a little over twenty years ago after reading the memoirs of writer William Kittredge. The book is called Owning It All and it was a very influential work for me. While Kittredge celebrates the wide-walled landscape of this desert county in southeastern Oregon, he simultaneously criticizes the reckless consumption of the landscape by generations of his family’s cattle ranchers. It is a tragic and cautionary tale that reminds us that the land we think is ours can turn against us. We are all at the mercy of the forces of nature more than we care to admit. It’s a book about failed dreams in a place of raw beauty. When I finished reading it, I knew I had to see for myself this country that Kittredge had written so bluntly about. It became a kind of compulsion and I have traveled there many times since then.

After returning from that first trip, I wrote a song called “Death At Low Water” which ended up on the Chris & Carla album “Life Full Of Holes”. The song seemed inspired by the countryside and dusty towns I traveled to had just visited. The lyrics evoke landmarks in and around Harney County, like Steens Mountain and Denio, the southern Nevada border town. It’s a kind of brutal song, but it’s also a song about faith, family and holding on to the really important things.

Even then I thought I should one day write and sing a collection of Harney County songs. With this new album, I finally got around to doing just that. Most of the songs on this album came alive as I tweaked the sounds and lyrics of the last Walkabouts album, Travels In The Dustland. In a way they have the same roots as the “Dustland” songs, but belonged in a different context. They are less about musical gestures and more about what is actually being sung. The songs for “Travels In The Dustland” were also desert songs, but they were about abstract and mythical landscapes. Here the events and characters are fictional, but the locations are all the more real, as are the roads I drove on myself. I have fond memories of the climbs and bends in these roads. I can see Steens Mountain in the distance high above the Alvord Desert, as well as the scattered trailer parks and ranches. These specific landscape memories are the origins of this music and the reason I named the album “Harney County”.

The county’s great sagebrush steppes, windswept mountains, and swampy plains (where huge flocks of birds can sometimes be seen) are places where people seem small and often insignificant. The winters are long and the country is covered in masses of snow, while the rest of the year the sun beats down relentlessly. These relentless elements cast a long shadow over the characters in the songs. They struggle to do their best in a land where beauty and hardship go hand in hand.

I wanted a sense of rawness and restraint in the recording of this album. It seemed to me that these qualities were already in the songs, the music should reflect that. Double bass player Žiga Golob and I recorded the songs live over two days in a sprawling, reverberant studio on the outskirts of Prague. The recording room has room for an 80-piece orchestra, and there we were, face to face, tiny and a little intimidated by the surroundings. Given the content of the song, it felt fitting.

Žiga was the main impetus for this recording and I couldn’t have made the album without him. Milan Cimfe joined us as sound engineer and also as occasional drummer. My wife Anda sang backing vocals on two songs, Paul Austin played electric guitar on “The Carnival Smoke,” and my old friend Terry Lee Hale played the alienated harmonica on “Many Moons.”

Originally I thought this album was supposed to sound like “Nebraska” as a dub album. We didn’t quite achieve that, but I would like to think that small remnants of that idea remain. What’s left out of this music is arguably more important than what’s added. So there’s plenty of room for the stories to breathe.

And now that the album is done, I can find the next place for my obsessions. – Chris Eckman/ Ljubljana / Sept. 2013


Posted on

30. March 2023