Imagine a dusty old backstreet antiques shop that sold not the heirlooms and curios of the past but the music of those eras, not sheet music or instruments but actual acoustic sounds. If you go down into the basement storeroom, right at the back on a high shelf is a long forgotten box. The box is now empty because all of those past Euterpean creations have somehow found their way onto this album. Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe have discovered a way of taking sounds that resonate with timeless grace and give them a contemporary make over to create an album that connects various eras, styles, genres, cultures and even geographical locations without once sounding like a pastiche or parody of any one part of it’s sum.
Let me draw a line connecting South American dancehalls with Wodehousian musical whimsy, another from chilled folk music to the landscape of Southern India, and then many more connecting places and thoughts, music and stories that have no business being connected. Stare at the pattern of the lines for a long time, and then shut your eyes. The stars dancing behind your eyelids is the music of these two outstanding musicians.
This combination of the wonderfully rich voice of Stacey and the diverse musical talents of O’Keefe is only the jumping off point for the album, what makes it stand tall in a world were folk music, for there is a folk core to much of On Hire, seems to be crudely robbed and repackaged for quick commercial gain (yes, Mumford and the Whale, I’m looking at you) is the depth of thought that has gone into the song writing and arrangement. The album may be largely ballady in nature but they weave together enough soul, poetry and dynamic to keep the songs a world away from the type of music that has long besmirched the name. And although the building blocks of the songs can be easily labelled, from tango to late night jazz, gypsy vibes to flamenco beats, the end result sounds both cohesive and original.
In short it is timeless in that it can’t be pinned down to any era, it is evocative and nostalgic without tugging unnecessarily at too many heartstrings, it is fresh without trying to be fashionable and it is effortlessly experimental without seeming to try too hard to be clever, though a wonderfully clever musical creation it certainly is.