Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dave Dobbyn's Harmony House on LP

Just before we exhibited Down Under Audio at the Newport Show last month, someone asked me if I was going to bring some music from Australia and New Zealand to play in the room. I thought yeah, of course, let me see what I got. Hmmm. Here's a couple of Midnight Oil albums, but they're kind of scratchy and the sound quality wasn't that great to start off with. And what happened to all my Split Enz records? Did I lose them in the last custody battle along with all my Liz Phair and Elliot Smith albums? I can't find them anywhere.

So the answer was no, sorry, I won't be playing Down Under music in our Down Under music rooms. (Ian Robinson and Lindy Gerber brought plenty, by the way, and they played it constantly in the Axis VoiceBox/REDGUM Audio room much to my delight.) Fortunately, someone else came through for me back in the other room--Simon Brown, who makes The Wand tonearm from New Zealand. Simon presented me with a gift from his homeland--the latest LP from Dave Dobbyn, a beloved singer-songwriter from Auckland who was a member of bands such as Th' Dudes (in the late '70s) and DD Smash (in the early '80s). When Simon gave me the LP, I almost said something stupid like "Oh, wasn't he in Crowded House?" I'm glad I kept my mouth shut.

I forgot all about Harmony House--things were obviously quite hectic for me at the show--but once I got home I quickly found the LP and gave it a spin. After a perfunctory first listen I found the album likable and Dobbyn's singing heartfelt and passionate, as if he really had something on the line. His wavering and sometimes vulnerable voice has the flickering glow of someone who has been around, taken a beating once or twice, and still wants to finish the song even if the venue is almost empty. There's something in his delivery that reminds me of Graham Parker during the later years in career--he's lacking a bit of the swagger and confidence of the younger version of himself, but the wit, intelligence and sheer talent more than makes up for it.

Simon told me he worried that Dave might be too MOR for me--even though I've been geeking out on Belafonte, Dean Martin and Julie London over the last couple of years. (Perhaps that's because of all the edgy indie rock bands I cover in this blog.) After repeated listens to Harmony House, however, I started peeling back the layers of the onion and found new things to admire--how strong and energetic his backing band is, how the melodies of his songs start to really lodge themselves in the back of your mind and how each song has a firm, unique feel despite the single, unifying force of Dobbyn's voice.

What sticks most with me is the final song, the title track. It's a tune of strange comfort, almost delivered in the style of a slow march, that seems to address the all-too-common feeling of weariness that accompanies thoughtful folks as they head into the home stretch. The sentiments in the song slowly evolve from deep-seated depression into gratitude for small pleasures, finally resulting in the following compromise: It's not so bad, she said/Let's not be sad, she said/Nobody's shooting at us/Nobody. It sounds passive at first but then you start thinking about it, the tinge of irony, a sly take-down of first-world problems.

Like the rest of the album, it'll make you think long after you've lifted the needle. This is a smart, honest album. Highly recommended.

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