The Broken Heartbreakers: How We Got to Now (brokenheartbreakers.com)

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The Broken Heartbreakers: Tripping Through the Ruins
The Broken Heartbreakers: How We Got to Now (brokenheartbreakers.com)

While the Broken Heartbreakers were preparing for their current New Zealand tour (see dates below) it was the first anniversary of the passing of their longtime friend and sometime collaborator Sam Prebble/Bond Street Bridge, whose death has left a gap in the musical life of this country which remains impossible to fill.

It may be possible to discern Prebble and the loss the BH suffer in some of the lyrics here which poetically articulate how many feel about him: "No more singing down those stairs, no more psychedelic beers" on the lovely opener My Sense of Wonder, and he is alluded to perhaps in the delightful but sad When You Don't Have Your People which is a meditation on the absence of family and friends.

But it would perhaps be wrong to project too much of that onto these songs because the Broken Heartbreakers -- the core of singer songwriters Rachel Bailey and John Guy Howell here joined by drummer Jeff Harford and bassist Richard Pickard -- have always been more elusive than literal.

When You Don't Have Your People embraces the bigger picture of relationships ("I miss my family and all the little bits between") which doubtless affects them as they tour the world . . . the life mentioned in Breaking Branches (which opens with "We fought our way across Europe in the fall, took the bus through the rain to Galway . . .").

And Somebody Please opens with a Celtic-influenced a cappella section by Bailey which would have audiences all across the Irelands respectfully holding a collective breath.

The Irish audience is addressed directly -- although it might equally well apply in this country -- on Twenty And Ten about a nation shaken by money and greed with young people feeling their future has been sold from underneath them: "Money has done what could not be done by men . . ."

Yet it is sung more in sadness than anger, which makes the hurts all the more cutting. Not a dry eye in the club I am guessing.

Among many beguiling songs here, Breaking Branches is a melodic standout (deliciously precise guitar passages) and moves into a broader topic: "We've been taking chances with our love, we found the way back but damage had been done, we know the softest parts to stuck the knife into . . ."

Although some of these songs move the band into a gently, more electric guitar dimension (I'm Not Dead comes dangerously close to a slice of intelligent radio-friendly folk-rock), it's when they explore pure, acoustic folk as on Tripping Through the Ruins (the hushed "may your river always flow" delivered like a benediction) you can hear writers who are assured and masters of their craft.

Supported by talented friends (among them Reb Fountain, Steve Abel and Dylan Storey, and recorded by their former bassist and Verlaine Mike Stoodley in Dunedin) this is a collective, refined album closing with Melody in H which sounds directed at the absent spirit.

"I've written too many sad songs, I never wanted to write you one, and I don't even know what to say. Day is night, there's no words, there's no rhythm, just notes in four four time . . ."

But, because it celebrates a deep friendship, the song also soars . . .

Because, like it or not, that's how we all get to now?

THE BROKEN HEARTBREAKERS NEW ZEALAND TOUR

Saturday October 24: Wunderbar, Lyytelton

Sunday October 25: Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru

Friday October 30: Moon, Wellington

Saturday October 31: Tuning Fork, Auckland 

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