Rating: * * * *
Verdict: A few misses don't detract from another accomplished outing.
As you would expect with 16 players in the band, this year's third incarnation of Fly My Pretties has produced the most diverse set of songs yet.
A Story moves from the wending and winding country-tinged tracks, Lie In the Land and On the Shore, to the atmospheric glitch and gentle gasket-blowing beats of Pa Kuha E, sung by the silky D'Angelo-meets-Marvin Gaye voice of Mara TK, and later there's the a cappella of Angels, which has a moving yet celebratory waiata-at-a-tangi mood to it.
And there's much more in between. But, as in the past, what brings the songs together seamlessly is FMP founder Barnaby Weir's vision, and this year, for the first time, a story written by Weir and his dad Dick (who also narrates the story) is woven through the live music show - which adds a stronger unifying thread.
Included in this CD/DVD set is the album, made up of new songs recorded during the group's 10-show tour in May and June, while the DVD features the full performance of the songs, as well as The FMP Documentary, FMP - The Animation, and encore tracks, including rowdy oldies Nato's Theme and Let's Roll.
Apart from Weir's two musical contributions, the porch song opener Old Friend and the trademark reggae jaunt of Heavy Weather, the band leader takes a back seat this time round and leaves it up to new FMP recruits like Cassette's Tom Watson, Mara TK, Auckland-based singer/keys player L.A. Mitchell, and the beefy presence of singer/bass player Rio Hunuki-Hemopo, to shine.
The latter's swamp blues jam, Down To The Sea, which has more than a hint of Take Me To River to it, is a wild and wailing highlight; Mitchell's I'm Alive In the World might be a little touchy-feely and starry-eyed for some, but its mix of smoky soul and Fleetwood Mac groove is catchy; and Anna Coddington's two contrasting songs - the first, Garden, is a gentle serenade, and the coolly titled second is resolute rocker Beat Repeat - proves she's got more than just sweet singer/songwriter chops.
Apart from Paul McLaney's Run For Your Life, a steely early-80s Cure-meets-Boy-era U2 track, there are none of the more rugged and psychedelic moments that the previous two albums had courtesy of songs like Nato's Theme, Let's Roll and Flight of the Owl.
Funnily enough, the most trippy A Story gets is the echoey delay of Dick Weir's voice when he howls, "Fly my pretties, fly", before the band slope and strut their way through stomping finale, It's Never Blown Like It's Goin.
There are a few wonky notes in Old Gold, but this is live music so it can be excused, and Tessa Rain's Mauri is an acquired taste with deep but difficult lyrics like, "I was always one to hold the scissors too close to my scalp, I cut my hair too short." So while a few songs don't quite stand up, as a package it's another accomplished album. However, rather than the album, it's in the live performance on the DVD - complete with the show's animated visuals, Dick Weir telling the story live on stage, and the cast of players resplendent in their old-time garb - where the project truly comes to life.