English flautist expands his horizons to focus on the innermost secrets.
Despite being a multi-instrumentalist, it was only on one of his solo records that John Hackett didn’t rely on other musicians in bringing various ideas – from classical and new-age, where the veteran had but a single partner, onwards, to prog-laden "We Are Not Alone" whose design required an entire ensemble. More so, John’s earlier credits seem to have burdened him with certain expectations, which is why, while the Covid-19 pandemic restricted creative process for many an artist, Hackett found lockdown liberating and delivered an album – free of genre bounds and most personal in terms of melodies and lyrics – where he produces every sound, instrumental and vocal. Hence the title, “The Piper Plays His Tune”: a line from a song, yet also a statement of the reedman’s not-so-forced independence and a reference to his art-rock influences.
These are marvelously manifested throughout the ten tracks on offer – the often familiar, and unmistakably familial, passages which pepper up even such pop-oriented pieces as the luscious “Crying Shame” or equally regretful, if finger-popping, opener “Masters Of My Past” – yet are less impressive when used as a number’s basis as is the case with the acoustically tinctured “In Love” that’s too dramatic for its own sentimental good. Still, pastel-hued motifs and soft voice – as well as tight-but-loose weave of guitar, keyboards and bass lines, before a gentle flute floats to the surface for the first time on the record’s second cut, “Broken” – will capture the listener’s heart from the start.
Though ballads like the piano-driven, strings-drenched, words-sharing “Broken Glass” and “Too Late For Dreamers” exude warm nostalgia, the effervescent riffs of “Julia” tap into the crux of reverie-vs-reality, and the strum behind the electric charge of “Clown” addresses the same adolescence-to-adulthood phase. Bringing on the finale, “Loved By You” has an ethereal AOR air to it, and the kaleidoscopic “There You Go Again” is filled with tenderness and joie de vivre – immensely amplified by a folk dance and faux-flamenco lace. And that’s not what one can expect from the younger Hackett brother.
Ultimately, “The Piper Plays His Tune” – a deeply adorable album – may not alter people’s perception of John, yet it establishes him as a songwriter, rather than composer per se, and provides an insight into his very soul, which is a no mean feat and a great achievement for any artist.