TO THE SEA
He’s the only member of Hello Sailor left standing to sing about it. Ironic, then, that the stilling of the voices of Dave McArtney and Graham Brazier should finally give Harry Lyon the chance to use his on To the Sea, his first-ever solo album, at the age of 68.
Lyon did, of course, contribute to the group’s song list (who could forget the nostalgic glow of “Lyin’ in the Sand”?) and had his brief moment in the sun with Coup d’Etat and its cod-reggae hit, “Doctor I Like Your Medicine”. Both of those songs are minor gems, and To the Sea has 12 more of them.
Musically, the songs are all over the show, from the roots-oriented country-rock of the title track, to the Beatles’ chord progressions on several of the songs, the Spector tropes of “Dance Me to Hell and Back” to the 1950s rock and roll homage, “Baby Don’t Stop”. While the music might sound like a kaleidoscope of styles that influenced throughout his lifetime, the lyrics take a leaf from latter-day Hello Sailor: partly nostalgic, but always embedded in Kiwi culture. Written over several decades, they’re songs that name-check local places and faces but do so with an ease that speaks volumes about how far we’ve come from the days of our socalled “cultural cringe”.
Packed with seasoned muso pros — not surprising, given Lyon’s long stint at the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand, from which he has recently retired — and produced by acclaimed songwrit- er Delaney Davidson, if To the Sea has a problem, it’s that he lacks a signature voice. On a few of the more rock-oriented tracks, he takes on a gruff vocal personality and ends up sounding like an aged Ian Astbury, or perhaps more accurately, contemporary Mark Lanegan; while on “Missionary” (presumably encouraged by Davidson) he assumes that famous “Iggy Pop singing through a megaphone” effect. Naturally, on “Johnny Cash” he gets pretty close to mimicking the country legend’s dulcet tones.
But Lyon is not out to impress with character so much as to get the best performances of his songs across, and the songs themselves frequently impress with their encyclopaedic grasp of rock and pop history. And there’s even a sensibly sentimental song for Yuletide in the sing-alongable “Christmas in Dublin”.
IF YOU LIKE THIS ALBUM BY THE QUIET MEMBER OF HELLO SAILOR, HOW ABOUT AN ALBUM BY THE QUIET GUY FROM THE ROLLING STONES? BILL WYMAN’S MONKEY GRIP IS PACKED WITH FUNNY, PROFICIENT, MINOR CLASSICS.