It’s been a long time between albums for Don McGlashan, but there are always musical projects. Most recently a rewarding series of shows sharing the stage with Dave Dobbyn; their songs were made to be played together even if they were never designed with that in mind.
So now we have McGlashan’s third solo full-lengther. His previous offerings have had some great songs, but neither felt like a complete – classic – album. Lucky Stars is different. Lucky Stars is the great Don McGlashan solo album. It manages to remind of The Mutton Birds without retracing steps. There are motifs and moods (Girl Make Your Own Mind Up, When The Trumpets Sound, On My Way To You) where we’re whisked back to Salty, Envy, even Rain & Steam, just as often a phrase, or his phrasing, will take a long-time listener back to The Front Lawn, particularly in that way he has of mixing eeriness and thoughtfulness (For Your Touch). But there’s no conscious repetition. Even when walking over nearly the same ground Don’s eye is always looking from another angle, his notebook has a new sketch.
The slow burn of these pieces as individual ideas, and as the collective, couldn’t work without the players leaving egos at the door of the studio and celebrating their role as song conjurers together.
Songs like Charles Kingsford Smith and Come Back To Me could almost exist as ‘solo’ performances but they work because of the delicate band arrangements, lilting horns and press-rolls on the snare, the detail in Don’s songs – his lyrics – framed by the strange angels resting on his shoulders, cresting the wave of each song with him, helping to shape and place this music as moment, postcard, handwritten letter.
In closer, The Waves Would Roll On, we’re almost talen back to The Front Lawn’s Andy, and speaking of Andy, in the title tune he adds yet another lovely story-song as ode to Auckland. Lucky Stars is the latest chapter in a storied songbook that already includes Andy, Harbour Bridge and of course Dominion Road.
What comes across with the Lucky Stars album is how contemplative, reflective he has been, this wisdom arrives as the result of time taken for navel-gazing, soul-searching and song-seeking. There are notes from other albums – memories rekindled as you take this in, a new work that only ever subtly references the past and prior musical moments. But it would be a mistake for anyone to dismiss this on first few hearings as slight, or light or, more prosaically, samey.
Lucky Stars is an album of extraordinary depth. Over multiple listens it’s clear that every song was polished in extraction as much as after creation.
There’s the inescapable notion, too, that this was McGlashan’s album to arrive at a particular time, him getting to the place of this album as much as any new songs forming through him; a new start and consolidation. In that respect I thought of Neil Finn’s lovely One Nil, of Tim Finn’s Say It Is So, of Dobbyn’s The Islander, all albums that were nurtured – and then nurturing. All albums that had highlights but exist, nearly defiantly and almost definitely, as albums. All albums that felt right for the time. And you could only know that after. The same is true of course with every album by SJD.
McGlashan’s Lucky Stars have been counted and accounted for with this album. His finest solo record so far. An evocative journey, an almost spiritual calmness guides this record’s songs, they hover – finding their own space – long after first impact.