Herald rating: * * * *

Review: Russell Baillie

He's a man possessed, that Dave Dobbyn. While his last studio album The Islander was admirable for those tracks where writing craft and sentiment made for some standout songs like Beside You, it still felt he was trying too hard, overall.

Now after last year's greatest hits collection gave him the long-service gold watch, on Hopetown he's fair swinging from the rafters. Here, it's the return of rock-Dobbyn, there's soul-Dobbyn, and there's stream-of-consciousness-gotta-tell-ya-a-yarn Dobbyn.

And while that may mean an album that may not exactly add to the pile marked "Classic Dobster," it sure is infectious. The now God-fearing singer-songwriter cum National Treasure hasn't been this much fun since the Queen St Riot.

Yeah, cheap shot, but there's something that reminds of those days when Dobbyn dressed up his songs in brassy soul clobber and let his mouth run away on him - and this is a reminder of just how good a rock vocalist he's long been.


That's whether it's the contagious shuffle-with-backing-gals of Someone Else's Pain, the woozy piano-powered gospel-shaped I Am I Am, or the 70s funk-rock stomp She Rocks which threatens making ol' Dave Dobbyn the new Lenny Kravitz.

Chugging, pub-wrecking guitars power the loopy My Kind of People (seemingly with a vocal by Johnny's bro, Dave Rotten) and on the rock'n'rollin' Angels. Elsewhere the woodwind-breezy shuffle of Alive could be a red-haired and freckled Nick Cave; and Name of Love lopes reggae-ishly with a hint of Costello.

All this and a few beguiling quieter numbers that may well make that aforementioned pile, or at least keep Beside You company. Among them are the tiki lounge tune Background Love and the two gems down the back - the quietly dramatic semi-orchestral Hopetoun Bridge followed by Kingdom Come, a rattling acoustic ballad (with Neil Finn's harmonies) that is a sweetly succinct sub-three minutes and all the better for it. Unlike his previous effort, Hopetown has a capacity to surprise with its sheer verve and arrangements (care of producer Ian Morris' seemingly bottomless box of tricks).

This far down the line Dobbyn may be preaching to a converted who would rather peg him to his past. But in his present, Dave Dobbyn is sure making it look easy, all over again.