Mike Tilbrook – Blue Solace E.P.
It starts with the sound of whispers, reminiscent of Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun, then adds a slinking bass line, which is joined by a Rhodes piano with familiar-sounding diminished 6th chords straight out of a classic Roots album, but this is not the work of the oft-overlooked thirteenth Soulquarian; it’s Adelaide’s own Mike Tilbrook, with help from a band featuring members of Local Revolution.
And even so, this nod to the neo-soul classics of the late nineties only lasts a few moments before the band kicks in with Hammond organ and Tilbrook’s guitar to introduce Machine Moon, with an intent chugging funk beat that distinguishes itself from the stylistic allusions that preceded it.
His voice is more Macy Gray than Erykah, with a raspy, jazzy delivery for lines like, “Luminescent butterflies look around the moon…,” and, “…bathroom sex is cleaner ‘cause there’s lots of sanitation.” I’m not sure that’s true; it kind of depends on the bathroom and the time of day/night, after all, but that line is kind of an exemplar of the main sticking point with this record, which is that Mike Tilbrook is a pretty great guitar player whose vocals and lyrics are something of a work in progress.
The tempo picks up for I Want That Sensation, which bounces along with Tilbrook’s infectious wah-pedal guitar riff, driving drums from Stephen Morabito, and some lovely accompaniment by Horns of Revolution’s Nick Sverdloff and Steven Bickley, who tastefully accentuate the chorus, before Sverdloff’s sax takes centre stage in the lovely breakdown.
Submarine Of Love spices up the proceedings with a sensual, funky beat and sells a sexual maritime metaphor that would probably be hilarious with less compelling music. The lush chorus, with its vibraphone, vibrato cello, light touch drums, horns, and Tilbrook’s suggestive vocal, is undeniably gorgeous.
The Rhodes returns to make a few surprise cameos in title track Blue Solace, and Tilbrook’s harmony vocal builds an otherworldly vibe that sets up a spectacularly luxuriant psychedelic bridge that could go on forever and never get old with its double-stroke rolls and its extended guitar/vocal melody.
It wraps up with the solo guitar and showcase vocal of She Doesn’t Need You, which tells of a woman whose life is complete, and along with I Want That Sensation, it’s a strong argument for Tilbrook’s talent.
There are a few odd rhythmic choices, as when bona fide rhythm-machine Stephen Morabito’s rimshots cross the line between funky and late towards the end of Machine Moon before snapping back into time for the next phrase, which happens again at the start of Submarine Of Love. It’s like the beat is intentionally dragged to get the listener’s attention, but there are probably better ways.
Still, there’s so much quality playing and vibe in these five tracks, and in a genre that is underexplored in the local scene that it’s definitely worth a look. Tilbrook’s guitar playing is consistently intriguing; his lyrics and delivery are a bit over-the-top, perhaps rendering the end result an acquired taste, but it’s a taste worth acquiring.