COLIN HAY “GATHERING MERCURY”

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Original Release Date: 03/29/2011
Rating: 4 and a half stars (out of 5)
Label: Compass Records

It seems a given that most listeners will remember Colin Hay’s name from his band Men at Work. The echoes of that band are heard on a couple songs musically here. The bigger reference point, though, comes from the vocals. Hay has a distinctive voice and it’s really not possible to listen to this without hearing his old group because of the vocals. This disc is much mellower and more intimate than the kind of thing one would expect from Men at Work, though. In other words, while there are similarities, no one is likely to get this confused for that band.

“Send Somebody” opens the set with a folky kind of ballad. The tune is a little bouncy, mellow and intricate. It gets more power and energy when the arrangement fills out later. It’s a cool tune that becomes quite a rocker. It serves as a great way to start the set in style. Bouncy acoustic guitar stylings with a real retro, almost jazz-like, sound opens “Family Man.” As more layers of sound are added to the mix, it gets a bit of a Beatles-like texture to it, but remains in mellow style. Later sections get a lush arrangement that’s almost progressive rock like, with some definite psychedelic sound built into it.

“Invisible” is more a slow rocker. It has a catchy hook and some great retro rock stylings. Intricate acoustic guitar picking opens “Dear Father.” The cut is a lot mellower and slower. It’s more of a ballad than anything to this point. In some ways, it feels similar to something Eric Clapton might do. This is a bitter-sweet tune that reflects Hay’s feelings about the passing of his father.

There’s a melodic rock motif to the title track that seems to have more of that progressive rock vibe to it. A more energetic melodic rocker, “Half a Million Angels” has a vibe to it that feels a bit like something from Hay’s former group. It’s still pretty mellow, though. Some of the layers of instrumentation that float over the top even flirt with fusion a bit. That Men at Work vibe is even more obvious on “Far From Home.” It is also more of a pure rocker, but the guitar has a bit of a reggae vibe and the keyboards bring some retro textures to the table.

“Where the Sky Is Blue” has a lot of country in the mix. It’s a flowing, mellow number that just has a real “down home” feeling to it. “A Simple Song” can be looked at as “truth in advertising.” It’s a mellow little number that’s catchy and quite folk music inspired. It truly is “a simple song,” but a good one. An intricate acoustic guitar based piece, “Goodnight Romeo” is an instrumental ballad.

There are four “Stripped Mix” versions of other songs from the album that end the set. “Send Somebody” is the first of them. In some ways, the mellower approach makes the song shine brighter. Hay’s vocal delivery really gains a lot in this format. As catchy as “Invisible” was in the original mix, it surprisingly really does seem to gain a lot of magic and charm when stripped. “Half a Million Angels” gains a bit of a progressive rock vibe in the stripped down format, but also is another point that feels a little like Eric Clapton. The country impact of “Where the Sky Is Blue” seems magnified on the “stripped” version.

This is quite a strong album. Perhaps it would have benefited from having some contrast in the form of a song or two that rocked a little more. Additionally, the effect of putting the “stripped” versions all together at the end is two-fold. First, the closing section of the disc has more of a lack of variation than early parts do. Secondly, it’s kind of low-key way to end the set. Still, everything here is strong and this is quite a good release. It is likely to please fans of Men at Work, while earning Hay some new listeners.