Jack Hayter: Practical Wireless (Absolutely Kosher)

He’s friendly, and obviously hopes you’ll find his strange tales and observations compelling. Jack Hayter sounds like the kind of guy who’s had a world of experience beyond what you and I are used to. He sounds like he’s been more places, met more people, eaten more odd foods, and drained glasses of much more exotic beverages. He can share with you what he’s seen and done, which he certainly does on his first solo album, Practical Wireless, but that doesn’t mean you’ll fully relate—or understand. Jack’s a little out there, you see. He’s making the record and all, wants you to hear it, etc., etc. But Jack’s deep inside himself, and deep inside the spirit of those places he’s been, deep inside the memory of those he’s loved—and perhaps lost. To put it more simply, Jack’s preoccupied, haunted even. But he’s friendly, and obviously hopes you’ll find his strange tales and observations compelling. You should—if you give Practical Wireless a close listen.

Hayter is a multi-instrumentalist (mostly guitar and pedal steel) in the London pop group Hefner. Members of that band appear on this album, but it’s clearly a solo effort. In spirit, it’s about as “solo” as you can get. It’s an amiably lonesome album, if that means anything. Or a warm greeting from far, far away. There’s something removed about this record, something spookily detached. “Space travel’s in my blood/There is nothing I want to do about it/ Long distance wears me out/But I know I can’t live without it…” Hayter sings on “Another Girl Another Planet,” a song previously released by The Only Ones. Whether he just means it metaphorically or not, Hayter sounds weary and well-traveled, all right. The instrumentation reflects that—it’s spare but odd. Acoustic guitar is the primary element, but on “Bilderberg,” he utilizes a couple of jarring musical intervals over which his warm bear hug of a voice lays down the story, with a bit of tasteful violin and shaker for added flavoring. It ends up sounding rather gripping. So does “Mary Honey,” which seems to be played on an out-of-tune or antique banjo. Hayter’s clear enunciation and gentle accent charm their way through these odd little arrangements. I believe that’s a harmonium that comes in halfway through this one, and the strangeness of the resulting texture is rather beguiling.

But some tunes are a bit more conventionally pleasant. “Au lion d’Or” is mostly sung in French but has an energizing rhythmic thrust from its well-played guitar and percussion. “Walking” is a vaguely bluesy soft rocker, although in Hayter’s world, “blues” is a thing to be twisted and folded into his unique worldview. “The Seduction of Nancy” and “No Spondilucks” are melancholy folk songs, more or less. “Cash won’t stay with me/No matter how I try/It just sits there in my wallet/Rehearsing its final goodbye,” sings the whimsical but resigned narrator of the latter tune, and you grin as you listen despite the sadness underneath. “Misfortune’s Big Statue” may be one of the signature tunes here, a rumination on romantic hopes vs. bad luck that seems to be one of Hayter’s main sources of musical inspiration. Hayter’s voice has weariness and whimsy in equal measures; he sounds at times like a toned-down Peter Gabriel, or like fellow Brit folkie, Roy Harper. There’s a sparkle in Hayter’s musical eye, but he’s also sort of shy. He relates these little tales likes it’s something a small group of friends asked him to do, but that he perhaps doesn’t find so easy. It ends up sounding intimate, wistful, a little unsettling at times. But it’s a genuinely human collection of songs, songs that sound especially compelling while driving late at night. Or just feeling a bit “out there.”

Jack Hayter knows that feeling well, and he’s brought it to bear on Practical Wireless. The record is a musical map of a journey both lovely and disorienting. Kinda like life, one supposes.

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