Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

His best album. Marty Willson-Piper is the preeminent twelve-string guitarist of our time, whether creating rich layers of atmosphere as one of the two lead guitarists in legendary Australian art-rockers the Church, or building a ferocious, bluesy blaze moonlighting in the latest incarnation of the Saints. He’s also as good as songwriter as he is a guitarist. This cd, his first studio effort since 2000 is every bit the match for pretty much everything his main band has ever done. The production manages to be ornate yet terse, with judiciously arranged guitars, keys and occasional strings  (by the alluring Australian quartet the Mood Maidens) and harmony vocals by cult siren Tiare Helberg. Willson-Piper leads the band with a somewhat airy delivery (imagine Rob Younger of Radio Birdman today, in a relaxed, thoughtful moment, if that’s possible). The songs are mostly slow-to-midtempo anthems, and Willson-Piper also, somewhat surprisingly, proves particularly adept at mid-60s style country on the sardonic, pedal steel-driven Game for Losers and the unforgiving, stern The Love You Never Had.

The opening track, No One There sounds, unsurprisingly, towering and majestic just like the Church, right down to Willson-Piper’s trademark echoey, ominous, portentous bent-note phrases, a pensive study in alienation and, more importantly, disalienation. Willson-Piper does not suffer fools gladly, and though he’s often very funny about it, much of this album is a surgical strike against complacency. The theme echoes, amusing yet spot-on, in the thoughtful, eco-friendly More Is Less:

 

I heard that god was coming back

I didn’t know that he’d been here…

Even the angels enjoy a good cigar

They say, tone-deaf drunks sing sweet songs

 

The cd’s centerpiece The Sniper, is a similarly thoughtful, methodical track, an eerily calm, rational assessment of whether or not to assassinate an unnamed, crooked politician (this album being recorded during the waning days of the Bush regime, Dick Cheney is the obvious suspected victim). The world goes to hell, and we all let it happen, Willson-Piper calmly intones. What if we didn’t? What is the price, and what are the philosophical consequences of heroism, he ponders?

The rousing, countryfied Feed Your Mind is laugh-out-loud hilarious, a savagely lyrical anti-tourist tirade that begins almost inscrutably but gets less and less subtle as it goes on, ending on the same note as the Room’s classic Jackpot Jack. High Down Below is the requisite big rocker, its narrator retreating to a place of sanity to make sense of the idiocy all around. The most poignant of all the tracks here is the vivid, haunting Song for Victor Jara, commemorating the great Chilean songwriter and poet murdered in 1973 in the wake of a CIA-backed coup. Ferociously intelligent and richly melodic, this makes an ideal late-night headphone album: look for this at the end of the year high on our best albums of 2009 list in December. The Church are on tour this summer (they’re at Irving Plaza in New York on July 8th) and hopefully Willson-Piper will be able to do a few solo dates as well.

May 18, 2009 - Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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