Koid'9 71 - Autumn 2009

Steve HACKETT : Out of the tunnel's mouth (Wolfworks Records)

2008 and 2009 are a kind of transitional period for Steve : divorce from his wife Kim Poor, the creation of a new label called Wolfworks and a new website www.hackettsongs.com, including an online mail order service (the website of Camino Records is staying active for the time being.)... Steve has got a new partner too, Joanna Lehmann, whose name I mention just because this writer co-signed some lyrics and sang a few lines on this record !

After the magnificent album of classical music last year, "Tribute", Steve had seemingly started to work with Chris Squire, a project usually referred as "Squackett" ! "Out of the tunnel's mouth" is not the result of this collaboration but Chris Squire actually plays on the first track of the CD. As for the rest, the bass playing is often handled by ex-Iona member Nick Beggs (who's also playing Chapman Stick). Other guests make an appearance here and there, but the main team still consists of the faithful Roger King (keyboards) and Gary O'Toole (drums). Here we find also John Hackett (flute), Rob Townsend (sax on a couple of tracks, that aren't especially jazzy), and some other guests on violin, viola and cello, which give a realistic orchestral colour to several songs (probably sometimes thanks to some multi-tracking).

That new opus contains only 8 tracks (6 vocal tracks and two instrumental ones), which offers a total of 46 minutes, with a few songs longer than usual. "Fire on the moon" reminds us of the best pieces of "To watch the storms" with very soft verses backed by cristalline keyboard notes, contrasting with a slow majestic chorus, particularly lyrical, and one mustn't forget some magnificent guitar soloing, so typical of the musician. A splendid start, followed by a first surprise, in the shape of "Nomads", blatantly hispanic, featuring classical guitar, a kind of bohemian music that ends up with a fast electric section ! Surprise once again with "Emerald and ash" : on this album, Steve composed two 9-minute-long tracks. This one is the first, featuring a contribution from his predecessor in Genesis. I'm talking about Anthony Phillips of course, who appears on 12-string acoustic guitar ! Phillips plays on the first part of the song, the longest, essentially an acoustic, pastoral piece, slightly inspired by tunes from the first half of the 20th century, while the second section is heavy and strange, almost threatening, before the track ends on a lighter third section, including a beautiful orchestral theme. "Tubehead" is shorter, one of the two instrumental pieces of the CD, at the same time rocky, catchy and tortured, where Steve gets some unlikely sounds out of his electric guitar, for our greatest pleasure ! "Sleepers" is the other long suite, once again in several parts. The first is an instrumental, based on classical guitar and orchestra, then evolves towards a vocal melody reminiscent of the classic, pastoral side of Steve. So the contrast is all the more striking with the second part of the track, which is primarily slow and heavy, then alternates between fast guitar solos and orchestral bits, before the main chorus comes back again, in an electrified form, to finally give way to a delicate acoustic finale.

Second instrumental piece of the album, "Ghost in the glass" is supposed to be more or less jazzy, with a nice and intimate acoustic intro, but becomes rapidly more symphonic, melancholy, featuring an electric guitar that litterally sings a slightly bluesy melody. A moment of grace that ends up to quickly, alas. Back to Earth again, and in a rather brutal way, with the slow and very bluesy "Still waters", that has got a smell of some good old Willie Dixon revisited by Led Zeppelin, quite fat in sound, with this swirling lead guitar, a track enriched by some lush female vocals, in an almost gospel style ! If you want to hear Hackett play some blues in his own tortured and virtuoso manner, this is a great opportunity to do so as his guitar cries and moans like never before ! After this sonic kaleidoscope, Steve offers a last journey, this time beyond the Bosphorus, with the Turkish tinge of "'Last train to Istanbul". After a heavy orchestral intro with an irresistible melody, the track really goes into action on a mid-tempo, accompanied by some eastern percussion, featuring a discreet electric guitar, then it's a sitar sound that takes over, then a section featuring solos by some violin, guitar, saxophone... A very original, spellbinding song, which succeeds better than the slightly similar "Waters of the wild" on "Wild orchids", for instance. A pity it is not stretched a bit more with maybe a nice electric guitar solo at the end.

Well, that's it, we have arrived, everybody gets out of the train ! As often, with the guitarist's albums, we can feel bewildered by the extreme diversity of the music on the record, which becomes more and more captivating after repeated listens, as long as you are musically open-minded and eclectic enough... Of course, we would have liked another lyrical electric guitar instrumental, maybe a finale on classical guitar... What else ? Let's us accept this record as it is : "Out of the tunnel's mouth" is a very strong, contrasted album (like many others by Hackett), perfectly arranged and recorded, with good vocals (I keep on saying that Steve's vocal performances in the studio are very pleasant), rich with emotions and surprises. Take your tickets and keep your ears wide open, the journey is unique and unforgettable!

The record should be available on the 5th of October, as a preorder on Steve's website : www.hackettsongs.com.

Marc Moingeon