The first solo album from Harry Lyon is surprisingly good – by which I don’t mean to denigrate – but rather tell you that it is surprising, and good. Surprising in its entertaining versatility, and good in its across-the-board qualities. The title track makes for a particularly strong start, with great lyrics; ‘Wireless is the future, but I’ve been wired in the past’, backed up with some very tasty guitar soloing.
Hardly anyone won’t know that Harry was a Hello Sailor lifer, and that alone should assure you of a certain quality, his own songwriting credits from back when including a couple of Kiwi classics in Lying In The Sand and Dr I Like Your Medicine.
But that band’s songwriting élan more fully belonged with the late Dave McArtney and frontman Graham Brazier, he of the swaggering voice and irresistible stage presence. Lyon was the band’s guitarist, often the manager and ever the steadying voice of reason.
In places, this album of songs written over several decades reflects that sort of easy-going balanced persona, and perhaps could have been sunk by it. Just do what you know you do well, kind of thing. So it is much to Lyon’s credit that he looked beyond the comfortably familiar to choose an off-beat producer in Delaney Davidson, the swamp-filtered Lyttelton troubadour who has very clearly stamped his own alt-folk musical style onto Lyon’s naturally mid-rock tunes.
You can hear it in the diversity of tempos and rhythms, the guitar sounds (especially the lap steel courtesy of Davidson), and even vocal inflections. What you also hear is an excellent band that regularly features the leading likes of drummer Wayne Bell, bassist Mark Hughes along with nice-touch cameos from peer legends including Hammond Gamble and Rick Ball.
A wry humour is evident with song subjects ranging social and political commentaries, to very personal reflections, the passage of his life on show. As noted above Harry Lyon was neither the main songwriter nor main voice of Hello Sailor, but in concert with Davidson, his many musician friends and engineering by Oly Harmer he has produced a very enjoyable rockin’ album. The dozen songs on ‘To The Sea’ are not all equals, some lyrics fall short and a few tunes don’t go far enough to escape a MoR tag, but together they constitute an album (note the ‘33 1/3rpm’ on the front cover, Side 1 and Side 2 song listings on the back), that can happily stand repeat listens.