Grant McLennan

Fireboy

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McLennan's second solo album finds the musician in excellent form, with a baker's dozen worth of songs that won't challenge preconceptions, but do make for a great listen all around. With production and performance help from New Zealand rock figure Dave Dobbyn, whose crisp playing and singing here perfectly fit with McLennan's own style just right, McLennan builds on the strengths of Watershed with another near-hour-long collection of sweetly sparkling, sometimes barbed, numbers. If there are hints of older rock styles here and there, McLennan's singing in particular still has the sharp, modern edge that helped make the Go-Betweens great, all while not losing his trademark warmth. "Lighting Fires," which starts the album, is one of his best numbers all around -- had it been a Go-Betweens number, it would get even more attention, and deservedly so, his impassioned lead vocal and the tight, focused arrangement offset just enough by Nicky Ferguson's almost soothing backing singing. "The Pawnbroker" is another winner, the longest song on the album and carefully, slowly building up to an intense, almost violent conclusion, McLennan ratcheting up the emotions as he goes, while the piano-led "Fingers" is its antithesis, quiet and restrained but still able to convey bitter regrets about a past that could have led to a better present. Various Australian performers pop in to contribute vocals here and there, adding either fine backing turns or semi-duet exchanges, which often help in setting up the quietly intense romanticism of the lyrics. Karin Jansson, veteran of various Church-related efforts, takes a turn on the lovely, fragile "The Dark Side of Town" and the entrancing "Things Will Change," with ringing but still restrained Byrds-styled guitar to kill for. Meanwhile, Penny Flanagan and Julia Richardson of Club Hoy pop up on "Surround Me" and "Bathe (In the Water)."

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