Reviewed by Sam Smith

Troy Kingi: Black Sea Golden Ladder

Reviewed by Sam Smith

Troy Kingi: Black Sea Golden Ladder

Kerikeri’s very own musical chameleon Troy Kingi is now halfway through the decade-long run of his ambitious 10 albums in 10 genres (10/10/10) series, with his latest self-proclaimed ‘folk album’, ‘Black Sea Golden Ladder, easily his most daring and risky release yet.

It is no secret that folk is a style Kingi is not entirely familiar with, making the decision to bring one of New Zealand’s finest folk and singer-songwriter practitioners, Delaney Davidson, onboard to help in the writing process and musical direction of the album a smart one.

Co-produced by Jol Mulholland and recorded in Wellington as part of Kingi’s Matairangi Mahi Toi Artist Residency at Government House, thematically the album explores the different stages of life, from birth to death. With each song, Kingi dives deep into his consciousness, putting into words his own memories and experiences, from childhood to fatherhood. 

This album isn’t folk as we know it in the traditional sense, but instead, it’s Kingi putting his unique spin on the genre, with the usual splatterings of soul and rock. I would call it a Troy-twist on folk.

Tracks like album opener Sleep, which sees Kingi and Davidson harmonising together, and the country folk of Fork in the Road are as authentic as it gets in terms of folk stylings. However, it’s elsewhere when Kingi brings his own flavour to proceedings that things get interesting.

Soul is never far away with his natural musical bent and is in evidence here on the Hammond organ-laced Never Take Me Away and gorgeous ballad Twilight, the latter of which has a certain Pixie Williams Blue Smoke quality to it.

Kingi can’t put down his electric guitar for long either, moving more towards folk-rock on other tracks. Forgotten Like a Dream is one which would not have sounded out of place on album #1 of this series, ‘Guitar Party At Uncle’s Bach’, with its twangy distorted wah guitar.

Ultimately this album is an album of surprise and unexpected turns, summed up on the album closer Sea of Death, a track that moves from a pretty standard acoustic- and string-driven folk song into an all-out jammy folk/rock track three minutes in.

Davidson’s influence is apparent, but equally, this is Kingi in a nutshell really, and captures the spirit of his 10 album series. He is a musical risk-taker and willing to go into unchartered waters for himself, waters that are often out of his depth. This album takes the farthest beyond his comfort zone he has been so far on this journey.

Whether it will hold up within the already exalted context of his 10/10/10 concept remains to be seen, but for now, ‘Black Sea Golden Ladder’ is a welcome addition to a project that has so far never failed to surprise and capture the imagination of music heads in Aotearoa.