Album Review: Colin Hay – “Gathering Mercury” – (Compass)

Album Reviews, Artists, Colin Hay, Features, Music — By on June 16, 2011 6:19 pm

Forever known as the lead singer-songwriter of the iconic ’80s band Men At Work, Colin Hay has been cranking out solo records for nearly a quarter century. Gathering Mercury is arguably his best work. Tragically, though, the album was inspired and written after the death of Hay’s father. “Dear Father” features one of the most poignant and heart-wrenching lyrics on the album: “Dear father I never got to say goodbye/I was singing on the River Clyde and I didn’t know.” On the night his father died, Hay was playing a show on a ferryboat on said river in Glasgow just 20 streets away from where his father was born.

Gathering Mercury is certainly neither a somber nor a sentimental album; on the contrary, it is entirely hopeful, thoughtfully introspective (without being navel-gazingly self-centered), admirably mature, uplifting and loaded with heartfelt and honest sentiment. Hay’s voice, too, has held up extremely well over the years; he’s even retained that signature vibrato in the higher registers, noticeable especially during the dancehall-tinged “Far From Home.”

Hay is obviously, like most among his generation (including this reviewer), influenced by the Beatles. “Family Man” and “Gathering Mercury” are comparable to the best songwriting of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, respectively, and Hay’s guitar skills on the latter are second to none. The man is simply an extremely talented and underrated songwriter/musician.

The ten songs on the album are imbued with a sense of wonder about the nature of mortality (“I’m invisible, cast me to the wind/I’m invincible no more, no more”), the uncertain yet exciting mysteries of the afterlife (“Until I cross over/One life is all I can see”) as well as a reverence for place — in this case, his hometown of Glasgow in “Where The Sky Is Blue” — and the simple beauty of a “Simple Song”.

The CD includes bonus “stripped mixes” of four of the featured songs which are identical to the main selections, minus the rhythm tracks. A more interesting idea would have been demo or solo acoustic versions.

Hay has also appeared in numerous feature films, as well as a very memorable episode of “Scrubs” featuring an acoustic performance of “Overkill” from Men At Work’s sophomore album, Cargo. Actor/director Zach Braff has also released a video of the opening track on Gathering Mercury, “Send Somebody.” Watch it here.

Hay has surrounded himself with some talented musicians including Michael Georgiades on guitars (who also wrote one of the songs), Jeff Babko on piano and organ, and Cecilia Noel on backing vocals (she also co-wrote the title track with Hay). In addition, Hay plays a mean harmonium and banjo.

Listen to Gathering Mercury in its entirety HERE.

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  1. Mark T says:

    Thanks, nice article. I never would have thought about the McCartney/Harrison comparison, but it totally fits makes sense. I’ve been listening to GM almost daily since it’s release, and I my appreciation and love for this record has not stopped growing yet. It gets my vote for Colin’s best yet, and I hope there is much more to come. My wife and I had the pleasure of seeing Colin live at the Belcourt in Nashville a couple of years ago. He is truly a master troubadour and deserves far more notice than that which he receives.

    • Kim says:

      I hadn’t heard of Colin Hay since Men at Work…and I got to see him just recently at the Woodford Folk festival…..he was AWESOME ….I bought his album and loved it straifgt away….which since then, I now want to hear all of his music….What a true artist and musician….! Absolutely beautiful and thought provoking….

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