Hatch is Elphinite Joey Wright's third CD. I was taken by how different it sounds from either of his two earlier ones, Camp, and Jalopy. Camp, a sure-fire antidote to depression, is a collection of moving bluegrass, jazz and country influenced original instrumentals with a few vocal covers in the mix. Jalopy is an all original, instrumental, introspective and experimental jazz-grass album.
Hatch is such a surprise partly because of the heightened role of the vocals in the album and because of the sound of Joey’s voice. He sings on eight of the eleven songs, often with the help of understated background vocals from Jenny Whiteley, Amy Millan, and Sarah Harmer.
Each song is a story told simply. They convey much with few words. I love the opening lines of the song 'Sunrise': “Lost like a wager - You found me like a coin - Love felt like danger - Now it plays like a little boy.”
The singing pace throughout “Hatch” is quite slow and dreamlike, as if the storyteller is singing to us from another dimension ... from a dream perhaps or maybe even from some other place.
A prime example is 'Hives', a lullabye where the voice takes us on a journey from the bliss of being under the eiderdown into the world of honeybees and the nectar of flowers then back again into the intimacy of the family night bed.
Although the themes of these songs sung and stories told are quite diverse, it is the music and Joey's voice that are the glue that hold this album together. From the first song, 'Genius' it feels as if we are entering a new musical land.
The intermittent bowed bass strokes in the song make it feel like we're being hastened into this world, travelling somewhere, on a train perhaps, that leads us in to what is waiting for us in the rest of the album. And it is a world filled with characters, including the Queen of Hearts who lives “in a house of cards” in 'Expectations Are The Killer'. This song and others make us feel like we too have fallen into the rabbit hole where another world exists in half-time.
It feels like the voices are so ephemeral at times, they might float away if not for the emotion in the music that grounds them. And although the voices are dreamlike, the words are filled insightful and ring true.
There are three instrumental pieces on the album. 'Big Baby', originally produced on Camp, is an interplay between two mandolins (Joey Wright and Dan Whiteley). It is so playful it brings to my mind the image of a waterfall leading a canoe down through a river with rapids, passing by sunlit dappled forests, and carrying the world of joys and sorrow with each stroke of the paddle. It fits in beautifully with all of the new sound-scapes created on this album. One of the other instrumental pieces, 'Strollin', is reminiscent of the work of Mali's late, great, guitar legend, Ali Farka Toure. And yet there are other rhythms in this tune, maybe even a hint of calypso music, all played through Joey's filter and turned into something new.
The musicianship on this album is of a uniformly high calibre. From the haunting sounds of Christine Bougie's lap steel and electric guitars to the spare percussion of Pat McGee. I must mention the quiet beauty of John Showman's violin and of course Joey Wright's own certitude of emotion, which he brings to every instrument he plays and which anchors the entire album.
This album is definitely a surprise, a very happy one.