Nick Bollinger reviews a mythological sci-fi love saga from Northland artist Troy Kingi.
Troy Kingi is an actor and musician from the far north, who made one of the best debut albums of last year with a double set called Guitar Party at Uncle’s Bach.
While that collection roamed freely across genres, its essential impulse seemed to come from the kind of Hendrix-inspired guitar music that could be heard all over New Zealand – but especially from Maori guitarists – in the late 60s and early 70s. Kingi might not have been there the first time around, but his playing showed an innate feel for that bluesy soulful style, while he paid respects to guitar-wielding forbears like Reno Tehei, Billy TK, and Steve Apirana.
There’s plenty of good guitar on his new album too, but it’s a different kind of party.
The concept for the new album came to Kingi one night at Taupo Bay in Northland. Gazing up at the night sky with his younger brother, he began to concoct a mythological sci-fi love saga involving two people from different dimensions who meet in the cosmos, fall in love and having a child with golden feet, thus fulfilling an ancient prophesy.
Toto, I don’t think we’re at Uncle’s bach any more.
The impetus this time doesn’t come from Hendrix so much as the psychedelic funk and soul that was swirling around in Hendrix’s aftermath. George Clinton’s Funkadelic and Parliament have obviously left their mark, as has the Curtis Mayfield of Superfly.
Like his guitar playing, Kingi’s singing is as fine and supple as ever. He really has a classic soul voice that can float up into falsetto as effortlessly as Curtis or D’Angelo, so it’s easy to forget that these songs deviate somewhat from the classic soul themes. It’s only when a word leaps out like ‘Zygertron’ that you realise he’s singing about intergalactic highways and cosmic love.
While there’s not as much of the searing rock guitar here as there was on Uncle’s Bach, there’s some lovely delicate fretwork, beautiful chord voicings and some good melodies, while the whole thing is underpinned by a solid foundation of funk. At times Kingi sails into similar territory to Unknown Mortal Orchestra; a kind of soulful psychedelia.
While his voice and guitar are great, Kingi has some strong supporting players, particularly Mara TK (who doubles as producer) and keyboardist Ed Zuccollo, whose woozy synthesisers lend a suitably retro space feel.
I haven’t quite unpacked the full scenario of this wacky space opera yet; there’s too much to enjoy just in its soulful sonics, though it has occurred to me that the whole idea of different cultures meeting across time and space isn’t necessarily that far from the story that underlies Ria Hall’s recent Rules Of Engagement. And like that album it ends on a hopeful note.