Genre: Progressive Folk
02 Twa Corbies
03 Bells Of St Andrew’s
04 Lord Randal
05 The Little Drummer
06 Noodle #1
08 Dancing Moon
09 Inside The Session Bar
10 Meet Me
11 Leaving The Session Bar
The acoustic guitar is a humble instrument, and we are all well and truly acquainted with its deployment as a simple, linear and – let’s not mince words – pedestrian musical device. Consequently it is easy to forget that it is also capable of incredible emotion and complexity. Enter Michael-John Azzopardi’s self titled album.
Featuring a mix of traditional songs (for example "Twa Corbies" and "The Little Drummer" and his own compositions, Azzopardi proves himself to be a supernatural guitarist. His ability to coax multiple melody lines out of the one instrument is simply breathtaking; his mastery of pathos, atmosphere and intensity awe-inspiring.
Most of the tracks on this album feature extended musical passages that wind and coil and carry us into wild and unmapped territory. Azzopardi demonstrates a genuinely classical aptitude for gathering momentum and exploring the rich possibilities of a theme. He filters blues, celtic, rock and jazz influences through six strings into a truly unmistakable voice.
I daresay that most other singer-songwriters, facing the prospect of sharing a stage with him, would have to feel like utter fakes once his devastating music has been revealed.
Speaking of singing – Mr Azzopardi’s voice is yet another wonder to behold. Whether soaring angelically or crooning with gravel, his vocals alone could carve him a great reputation. He knows how to coax the feeling from a lyric, to husband it with tenderness, lust or wit as the moment dictates. Both his voice and his guitar are expert at expressing the subtlest sentiment and the most strident outburst.
Perhaps my only complaint about this album is that the production falls down a little. Sometimes things are not as clear or bright as I would have liked; sometimes some of the overdubbed parts sound like they could have been retaken just one more time to nail down the tightness of the performance. This is a little frustrating – I rather feel these songs deserve better treatment, although fortunately this complaint is relatively insignificant.
Having been privileged with seeing him perform live several times I know what I am listening out for; without that advantage you might need a few spins to quite get the hang of things. Trust me though – it’s easily worth this minor effort. And as you gradually make sense of the intricate arrangements, bearing in mind that often what sounds like two guitars is actually the one instrument and the one take – well, you won’t get tired of this music for a very long time. There is just so much to explore!
Speaking also of exploration – some of these songs paint marvellous pictures of moments in space and time. "The Bells Of St Andrews" in particular sends me right back into similar memories I have of Sydney Sunday mornings, their romance and the tranquillity of their vast potential. There’s a love of place and perhaps even humanity at work in at least a few of these songs that really sends shivers of delight through me.
This album is a total smorgasbord of inspired progressive folk genius. Every track has a unique feel and atmosphere and Azzopardi deftly deploys a number of supporting instruments – mandolin, mandorla, blues harp and pipe – to deepen each song’s character. If you love music with passion, pathos or just plain spell-binding virtuosity then I highly recommend this release.