Lazy Eye Records America/Compass Records 7 4781 1
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Colin Hay, lead vocalist and guitarist of the Australian band Men at Work, has released a series of albums under his own name since 1987, all well received by fans and critics. I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself, his 14th release, features the UK-born singer-songwriter’s interpretations of songs made famous by others. He coproduced the album with producer and multi-instrumentalist Chad Fischer, who provided the arrangements and much of the instrumentation.
The project began in January 2021 when Hay heard the news that Gerry Marsden, of Gerry and the Pacemakers, had died. Hay picked up his guitar and started singing one of Marsden’s biggest hits, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.” He sent a recording of his rendition of the song to Fischer, who created a haunting background with a Mellotron and a simple piano line. Hay’s voice perfectly captures the song’s bittersweet mixture of sadness and hope, but also conveys a deeper understanding that comes with the wisdom of age.
“I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself,” a Burt Bacharach and Hal David tune, was a hit for Dusty Springfield in 1964. Fischer’s arrangement re-creates some of the grandeur of Springfield’s version; Hay pays tribute to it, but brings his own sense of romantic longing to the song. He’s a more involving singer than he was in his youth, and his voice is suppler and more fluid.
As a songwriter, Hay remains respectful to the originals on I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself, but the talented vocalist has the ability to revive them. “Wichita Lineman” certainly benefits from a smart arrangement by Fischer, but it is Hay’s voice that showcases Jimmy Webb’s songwriting chops. Rolling Stone guitarist Ronnie Wood was a raw youth of 25, and still with the Faces, when he sang “Ooh La La,” a tune about a grandfather passing advice along to his grandson. When Hay, at age 68, sings “I wish that I knew what I know now / When I was younger,” he brings to the line experience, a touch of regret, and a suggestion that perhaps things worked out after all.
Hay jumps to the mid-1980s with Del Amitri’s “Driving with the Brakes On,” a song worth revisiting, but most of the other tracks on the album reach back to the ’60s and ’70s. It takes some courage, and a wide vocal range, to cover Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross,” but Hay handles it with both care and ease. Ray Davies, of The Kinks, will always be the definitive singer of the band’s “Waterloo Sunset,” but Hay’s performance of the song is magnificent—wistfully romantic and heartfelt.
One of the reasons I wanted to call attention to this album is that it sounded stunning. Hay’s voice had a realistic, three-dimensional presence that put him right in my listening room. His guitar playing is integral to the arrangements, and always rang clear and true. My copy of the LP was made by Hand Drawn Pressing, of Addison, Texas; the lavender-swirl vinyl was impressively quiet and flat.
I wish Hay had chosen more obscure Beatles tunes than “Norwegian Wood” and “Across the Universe,” but he covers them well and his unique renditions are worth hearing. Hay released an album of new material, Now and the Evermore, this year, only a few months after I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself. Both albums are reminders that Colin Hay remains a vibrant and inspired musician, well worth our continued attention.
. . . Joseph Taylor