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Paul McLaney - Album Review: Play On

26 Jul 2017 // A review by Corinne Rutherford

Where do I begin to review a musical imagining of Shakespeare’s most well-known soliloquies? Paul McLaney has taken 400 year old lyrics and created music around them, eleven undeniably theatrical tracks setting some of Shakespeare’s most famous words to music for the first time. The result is wondrous, magnificent and glorious.

Before I continue, Soliloquy or Soliloquies is not a word used every day, so a brief explanation before I rock on. As defined by the Oxford dictionary “An act of speaking one's thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers, especially by a character in a play”. I am rather partial to a bit of Shakespeare, although I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but as they say “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”

Paul’s journey to create Play On the album, started in April 2016, he assembled a selection of acclaimed New Zealand musicians to perform Play On at Auckland’s Pop-up Globe Theatre. This one off show which was a sell-out was not only an undeniable success but also a world first.

Play On the album features vocal heavyweights Esther Stephens (I will never look at Ngarie from Westside in the same way again), Julia Deans, Maisey Rika, Ria Hall, Laughton Kora, Mara TK also including Andy Keegan (drums) Richie Pickard (bass) and Jessica Hindin, Mahuia Bridgeman-Cooper and Rachel Wells (Edin String Section). Of course this album also showcases the stunning vocal ability of Mclaney and his skill as a composer.

The first track on this album which is Come Away Death is sung by McLaney, from Twelfth Night it is the only track he sings solo. This is not a light hearted bubble-gum for the brain album as you may be able to gather from line-up of impressive New Zealand musical artist’s and the title of the first track and probably due to the fact that it is indeed based on writings from The Bard.

As the album weaves its magic, track after track you get a good sense of the incredible beauty and power of each individual vocalist, they have been matched perfectly to the complexity of the 400 year old lyrics. This album is best heard on the edge of your seat, gripping the arms on your chair and wishing that you could have been in the front row at the Pop up Globe.

Laughton Kora has always impressed me with the power of his voice but to pair it with Esther Stephens on track six The Passionate Shepherd To His Love (written by Christopher Marlowe who was an influence on Shakespeare) is a perfect match, the duo made the pastoral love story come alive and infused it with the powerful emotion it deserved.

Each and every artist on this album delivered a captivating, dramatic and stunning performance, but track eleven Sonnet 18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” Delivered by Maisey Rika in Te Reo this was a spine-tingling, awe inspiring finale, McLaney has managed to pair a stunning voice to some of the most powerful words ever written, delivered in a language other than English, if the thought of that does not blow your mind, then listening to it just might.

This is an album which is so complex, intelligent and mesmerizing that I almost ran away at the thought of reviewing it. I am glad I didn’t, it is a thing of beauty which I may have to purchase on vinyl, and to those lucky enough to get a chance, Play On The Show will feature tracks from the album replicated by a range of musical talents in some of the country’s finest venues throughout August and September 2017.    

“If music be the food of love, play on…” 


About Paul McLaney

Growing up in the shadows of North-East England's sprawling petrochemical factories then transplanted worlds away to the idle wiles of Aotearoa's northern reaches; music was the only constant in the life of Paul McLaney, singer and guitar-player. Yet his music has only furthered his travels, and his stylistic leanings have been anything but constant. From folky pop and thunderous rock 'n' roll spanning the exploits of his band Gramsci to complete immersion in electronic music collaborations, McLaney's life has been one of movement.

McLaney’s earlier efforts illustrate the many threads that he weaves into his musical tapestry. Beginning with 1998’s The Prayer Engine, a solo effort of 2000 copies sold at McLaney’s first public outings as a performer, turning through the gentle electronically-tinged folk pop of Gramsci’s first two albums Permanence (2000) and Object (2001) with collaborator David Holmes, the soul-searching acoustic purity of 2003’s The Shadows of Birds Flying Fall Slowly Down the Tall Buildings before 2005’s critically-acclaimed return of Gramsci, complete with hard-charged grandiose guitar rock, on Like Stray Voltage, McLaney has traversed musical horizons like the traveller he is.

In 2006, McLaney went south, heading to Dunedin to record his first Loop released album, Edin – at the NZBC recording studio with recording engineer, Dale Cotton, drummer Nick Gaffeney and bass player Richie Pickard. The critically acclaimed and Tui nominated album, was a turning point for McLaney and saw him come close to finding paradise, and to finding himself as a musician.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Paul McLaney


Play On
Year: 2017
Type: Album
Diamond Side
Year: 2007
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Year: 2006
Type: Album

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