By Al Kaufman
Anyone over the age of 30 knows Colin Hay. He was the guy with the lazy eye fronting the reggae influenced pop band Men at Work, who invaded America from Australia with songs such as “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under,” and had us wondering what vegemite tasted like.
Hay (a native Scot) has quietly been carving out a little niche for himself in the singer/songwriter vein for the last 10 years or so. His music has shown up in the soundtrack to Garden State, and his songs, and face, frequently appear on "Scrubs." His last CD, Are You Lookin' at Me?, provided the same wit and playful tone that played such a vital role in his best Men at Work material, yet toned down and slightly more mature. It was quite possibly the greatest overlooked CD of 2007.
American Sunshine is not as strong as Are You Lookin' at Me?, but is another solid piece of work. The Aussie has been living in California for the past 20 years, and this CD is more of a love letter to his adopted home as well as to, well, love.
The CD is bookended with "Oh California" and the title track. The first track an homage to his adopted state, warts and all, is as catchy as anything he has ever written, but in a more laid-back style. "American Sunshine" closes the CD with an instrumental that is a throwback to some of the juicier guitar parts of '70s rock.
In between, Hays sings numerous love songs, mostly in that distinctly accented voice of his. Some, such as "No Time," "The End of Wilhemina" and "I Can't Get Up Out of This Bed," are easy enough to imagine on Men at Work albums. Then there are cuts such as "Broken Love," which pays homage to American blues. With a guitar sound that recalls ZZ Top, Hay snarls "Broken love won't pay my bills, uh huh."
All the people involved in the songs have their issues and are, in their own way, distinctly American. Hay has done an admirable job of capturing the hope and despair that currently permeates our country. American Sunshine was recorded in Nashville with some of the city's top studio musicians. Six of the songs were recorded in a two-day period. It shows, for good or for bad. While all the songs ooze quality and have a certain congruity, nothing jumps out. There are a lot of tasty tidbits here without a main course. Much of Hay's wit and sense of adventure (inherent in all Aussies) is missing (with the exception of the biting "Pleased to Almost Meet You"). Perhaps he has spent too much relaxing in his California home listening to Jack Johnson. Maybe he just needs to go back home, play some rugby, and hang out in the bush. But no matter what he does, the fact remains that he is one hell of a pop song writer.
Colin Hay plays Variety Playhouse on Thursday, October 1. 8 pm. $17.50/$20 door.