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Marty Willson-Piper
Nightjar
Second Motion Records
www.martywillsonpiper.net


Hot on the heels of The Church singer / bassist Steve Kilbey's ace solo album Painkiller, and with a new Church album Untitled #23 almost upon us, comes this equally fine effort from Marty Willson-Piper, the band's guitarist and occasional singer / songwriter. Now, the Church guys could sing the phone book - the Swedish phone book at that - and I'd give it a listen, but Nightjar and Painkiller are both such great records that I'm positively giddy with anticipation for the new full-band album.

Kilbey's solo albums often sound quite like the Church, but Marty usually branches out a bit more into power pop, folk and baroque pop alongside the epic, psychedelic rock of his day job. It's been quite a while since his last solo studio disc Hanging Out In Heaven, which came out in 2000, and it sounds like the man had plenty of great tunes stacked up since then.

There's plenty of amazing guitar work as expected, both acoustic and electric, backed up with some very nice, melancholy harmony vocals and strings. In fact, there's quite a parade of distinguished guests: Swedish/Polynesian Tiare Helberg on vocals (interesting combination of nationalities, makes me think of Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls' comment that he's somewhere between the fire and ice personalities of his bandmates - like lukewarm water!); ex-Triffids' pedal steel maestro "Evil" Graham Lee (who also makes an appearance on the Kilbey album); and "Cornish Queen" Julie Elwin's on various musical and vocal accompaniments. MWP even drew the cover himself, and produced the record in England with "technical poet" Dare Mason, his sometime buddy in Noctorum.

The songs are an eclectic bunch, but of a much higher standard than you often find on solo albums. MWP sometimes sounds like he's a fan of Richard Thompson's masterful guitar stylings and dark way with a melody and lyric, on "More Is Less" for example.

One of the standouts is the fantastic "Lullaby For The Lonely"; it's very, very reminiscent of the late Grant McLennan (yes, I got him into a review again !). The wistful melody and plaintive backing vocals remind very much of McLennan songs like "One Plus One". "High Down Below" is also reminiscent of GM or late Go-Betweens, a circling electric melody with pulsing strings.

The other tune I can't get out of my head is "Feed Your Mind" - this one is a little odd, but very good. The verses nick the melody from "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", and I'm sure I recognize the lyrics from somewhere - anyone who can give me a clue on the following gets a prize: "...and you're sitting in your sports car with your number plates from Monaco / And you're driving down the coast to catch a flight / And you wake up in the hospital with your face unrecognizable / And the nurse just comes and switches off the light ..." I dunno, even if that's not a quote from somewhere else, it takes a certain talent to make it sound like a steal.

The Church are doing a full US tour pretty soon now; I hope MWP and Kilbey both bust out a few of their new solo tunes during the shows.

-Gareth Bowles

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