DOMESTIC DEPARTURES - Bernie Hayes Quartet (Half a Cow)
I wasn't supposed to like this album. Too soft by far, I was warned. And when the congas kicked in at the top of the opening cut, "When I'm Wrong", it sounded like that warning wasn't (wrong, that is). The latest effort from Sydney singer-songwriter/Newtown fixture Bernie Hayes (and band) sounded like it was headed towards Lounge Musicville. First impressions, however, can be misleading.

Bernie's been playing the inner-western Sando circuit for as long as anyone can remember, as a member of The Shout Brothers, as a solo artist, and as a guest with umpteen of his mates (the likes of Sneeze and chartbusting yawns, The Whitlams). More lately he's been treading the boards with his own Bernie Hayes Quartet, featuring (cue: I-94 Bar patron reference points) ex-Smelly Tongue John Encarnacao and The Eastern Dark's Bill Gibson on guitar and bass respectively. While the BHQ's output doesn't resemble anything by either of those bands, it's also a step away from Bernie's last, largely acoustic disc, "Every Tuesday, Sometimes Sunday".

What keeps "Domestic Departures" out of the doldrums is the occasionally gritty band and the interesting songs. Encarnacao's guitar playing has an edge without going over the top. On a song like "Soft Landing" it's to the front of the mix, without demanding centre stage. Gibson's bass playing is rich and warm and Jess Ciampa's often subtle work behind the traps is engaging. This is a combo with an ear for each other.

Did I mention Bernie Hayes' vocals? The guy's blessed with a soulful, arresting voice that doesn't lack power but rarely sounds stretched. Tonally, he's somewhere between Tim Buckley and balladeering Declan McManus. Now there's two names you don't hear around here often.

The single, Your Green Light", doesn't stick, but a couple of others, like "Refuse to Know" and "All Good Things", do. "Whatever Moves me" is vaguely Ed Kuepperesque.

A little MOR, slightly rocking, "Domestic Departures" doesn't blow chunks and doesn't blow my brains out either. It's not going to wear out its welcome in my CD player, but it's not going to be stashed with the duds that don't make it to review here, either. - The Barman