7 Mar 2016

Harmony House by Dave Dobbyn

From The Sampler, 12:00 pm on 7 March 2016
Dave Dobbyn

Dave Dobbyn Photo: Supplied

Nick Bollinger reviews the first album in eight years from Dave Dobbyn.

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It’s nearly eight years since the last new album from Dave Dobbyn, though somehow it doesn’t seem that long. When your songs have become such a part of the landscape then you are a constant presence, whether you are releasing new music or not. Still a fresh set of Dobbyn songs is welcome, and a chance to find out how that landscape is looking through the eyes of a master songwriter.

The scene he surveys is both a fresh and a familiar one. In the opening song, ‘Waiting for a Voice’, he describes what might be a dream or a vision, reporting it in heightened, telescopic detail. He sees the veins on distant leaves and a figure preparing a meal on an opposite shore. The figure turns out to be Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, with the message that heaven is waiting for the singer to make a choice. The effect is at once ecstatic and apocalyptic, as licks of South Seas steel guitar are swept away in an ominous storm of sound.

The Biblical stuff is, of course, nothing new for Dave; it’s been a rich source of metaphor and a thread that’s run through his writing, at least as far back as Hopetown. Musically, though, there are some new colours, thanks to Dobbyn’s latest collaborators, Sam Scott and Luke Buda of The Phoenix Foundation. They produced Harmony House, played much of the music on it, and even co-wrote a few of the songs. And there’s a distinctly Phoenix-y quality about the intricate textures. The title song, with its modal melody and motoric groove, could just about slip unnoticed onto a recent Phoenix Foundation album.

But the dominant personality in all this remains Dobbyn’s and he seems to have two major preoccupations here. The first is a kind of striving for transcendence. The other is love - and love songs make up some of the most powerful material on Harmony House.

‘Tell The World’ - with Phoenix-y ‘oo-oo’s and one of those giant choruses Dave Dobbyn just seems to pluck out of the air - takes its place alongside ‘Loyal’ and ‘Slice Of Heaven’ as another of his great love anthems. But the album’s finest moment – at least in terms of pure songwriting - might be ‘Burning Love’. Again, it’s a love song, and it refreshes the timeless theme with a casual brilliance that reminds me of Paul McCartney, while Scott and Buda know enough to keep out of the way here and just let Dobbyn do what he does so well.

Songs played: Waiting For A Voice, One Summer Storm, Ball Of Light, Angelina, Burning Love, Harmony House, Tell The World, Singing Through The Storm, Submarine Blue.

Harmony House is available on Red Trolley Records.