Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Luke Hurley had been visibly making music around New Zealand for almost four decades, quite often busking but also opening for acts like Michelle Shocked, appearing at fringe festivals, with music on soundtracks and in radio interviews, live albums and collections, and tours in Europe . . .
In 2007 Monkey Records released a Best Of (1984 - 2013) collection, an excellent 18 song compilation which included his political, social commentary and poetic lyrics married to his acoustic guitar.
That set – worth seeking out – opened with perhaps his most well-known piece Albatross, a deep and resonant song which drew a thread from the Anglofolk sound of the Sixties (Davy Graham, Martin Carthy, John Renbourn etc) to his own acoustic style and biting social comment (“we eat junk food, pollute out minds, working for money, wasting time . . .”).
Happy Isles is, I believe, Hurley's first vinyl album since '86s Police State (the title track also on that Best Of) and – aside from a more stately, poised and measured and revisit to Albatross as the more reflective and relevant Alba at the end of the first side – introduces all new material.
The title track manages to prod the complacency in these islands through a litany of “beautiful” nature and people. Hurley doesn't club these cliches, just lay them bare for how shallow they are: “We are the least corrupt place in the world, because we say so, and we are honest . . . we're so clean, we're so green”.
With gently keening guitar it comes off as a lament and a jaded love letter to Aotearoa New Zealand at the same time: “We're here to help you in the happy isles of Oceania, come and help yourself, it's a great country . . .”
Elsewhere, as on the guitar work on the exotic Ting Tong (“you look out for me, you look out for you”) he touches elements of Indian drone and Middle Eastern melodic patterns, Hamilton Dome is more traditional, brooding folk with an engaging guitar line and throbbing pulse which pull everything tight, and the standout is the intense instrumental Whero where his formidable playing skills are showcased in a piece which is a multilayered tour-de-force along that Indo-influenced Anglofolk axis.
Aspiring or even seasoned guitarists shouldn't start with that one.
Diamond Friday is a lovely and exotic miniature right at the end.
Only Colour of Your Skin among these eight tracks pulls up short because of its overt sentiment on an album where the other lyrics are either more subtle, ambiguous or elusive.
Hurley has been a one-man band and business (his phone numbers are on the album cover, his expansive website is as enjoyably conversational as he is), and an independent spirit who has carved his own musical and life path far from the streams of musical fashions and trends.
Every now and again over the past decades Luke Hurley has broken cover and attracted a wider audience, albeit very briefly.
Happy Isles – recorded in Lyttelton, pressed by Holiday Records in Auckland and also available digitally from his website here – is one which deserves serious attention.
Attractive cover by Justin Summerton too.