dancing moon (excerpt)



Review of The Curious Tide

Australian multi-instrumentalist Michael-John Azzopardi has been creating virtuosic and atmospheric folk music for some years now. The Curious Tide is his third solo album and it represents a further maturing and deepening of his art.

The contours of The Curious Tide are written in the language of trance and dreams. From the strains of opening instrumental track “Tide – Ebb,” to the final cadences of closer “Tide – Flow,” the whole album represents journeys within journeys, wandering ever deeper into an internal world of sea spray on rocks, old secrets buried in earth.

As with his previous releases, Azzopardi presents a mixture of original material alongside fresh arrangements of traditional English folk songs. The latter are invariably stunning, for Azzopardi filters the innate magic of the folk tradition through a polymath musical genius and profound storytelling gifts.

His rendition of “Blacksmith” is a case in point: Azzopardi binds luscious arrangements around the winding melody of the song. The instruments themselves ebb and flow across the guiding thread of the piece, coiling eventually into a hypnotic climax. I’ve not heard any other interpretation that comes close.

Azzopardi has a tendency to choose traditional songs about tragedy; love lost, found, and lost again; about death and the inescapable clutches of misfortune. He renders the songs with a sensitivity and warmth, a grim compassion. In his hands, traditional tunes like “Bill Norrie,” transcend the dry, stuffy garments of received convention and writhe with life and passion.

If Azzopardi has preternatural gifts for interpreting traditional tunes, then his brilliance as a composer is just as impressive. Known especially for his spellbinding guitar work, Azzopardi has been expanding his instrumental repertoire; The Curious Tide transcends the format of “acoustic guitar and vocals,” (a format which Azzopardi had already totally redefined on his previous releases) and enters into a rich melange of mandolin, cello, blues harp, banjo, organ, and so on.

He doesn’t just play many instruments but at mediocre standard, either; Azzopardi’s expressive bowed banjo work on “Young Edwin of the Lowlands Low” is just as captivating as the soaring mandolin solo on “Oliver Glover.”

Yet as always, the connecting thread of his art is his singing: redolent with passion, suffering, curiosity, humility, and courage. He draws exquisite tensions and atmospheres from his vocals; he turns his tremendous technical gifts completely to the purpose of unfettered expression, and there is a raw, disarming honesty even when his singing is at its most sophisticated. Actually, the same could be said of his musicianship as a whole.

I feel I must return to mention his acoustic guitar work, however. As always, Azzopardi brings magisterial grace to the instrument. His gift for wringing simultaneous rhythm and melody parts from the instrument shines in the album’s warm and clear production. It takes close listening to work out exactly how the arrangements are structured, with seemingly contrapuntal elements often resolving into a single instrument part. I have seen him replicate this magic live; his hands seem sometimes to defy the laws of physics.

I mentioned before Azzopardi’s gift for storytelling. He invites us into the worlds and emotions of his characters with tremendous grace. Even his more didactic lyrics – “Belong” with its animism and “Wake” with its injunctions to enlightenment – unfold like transpersonal narratives. His words fall like stately snow upon the writhing currents of his instrumentation.

When The Curious Tide ends it feels like one has just returned from a long journey in a distant – yet deeply familiar – land of mystery. I suspect it is nothing less than the mystery of that which is most deeply within: this is music that evokes the underworldly journeys of Orpheus himself. With The Curious Tide Azzopardi has achieved an organic, dark, complex, and impassioned expression that transcends all bounds. This is an essential release

Rating:  4.75/5

Heathen Harvest Music Review by Henry Lauer



Review of The Forest Dark

The Forest Dark is Michael-John Azzopardi’s (MJA) second release in a folk music idiom, and the rich tapestries of his previous, self-titled, release stand forth just as beautifully on this new album
As before, MJA’s principle tools are his soaring, emotive vocals and supernatural acoustic guitar. As before, he marshals a number of supporting instruments to the cause; The Forest Dark adds banjo to the mix and he proves himself more than capable of ringing shadowy atmosphere and layered emotion from the instrument
The Forest Dark is a lot moodier and more pensive than the previous release. It entices us into inky shadows, into the almost malevolent sentience of deep old growth forests. There’s a sense of lost history to this release, as though veiled and sometimes unsettling ancestral memories have hiddenly guided MJA’s performances, shaping the songs into voices for their near-forgotten expression
As before, The Forest Dark combines MJA’s complex and beautiful compositions with his extremely creative arrangements of traditional European folk songs. There are a number of instrumental tracks, the trademark drones and rapid-fire arpeggios of his acoustic guitar carrying the day marvellously
MJA’s vocally-driven compositions are always a delight, and he explores the shadowy aesthetic of this release in subtle and deep ways. The pathos and emotional complexity of tracks like “In Our Disease” – both musically and
lyrically – would have to be almost utterly unique and unequalled
Yet I think on this release it is MJA’s arrangements of traditional pieces that really carry the day. The album features what is far away the most atmospheric and trance-inducing version of “John Barleycorn” I’ve ever heard; MJA’s takes on old songs like “One Night As I Lay On My Bed” and “God Rest Ye” open these pieces into drone-tuned psychedelic Odysseys
I complained a little about the clarity of production interfering with MJA’s previous album, but it seems he has resolved these niggling issues and The Forest Dark is marvellously clear. The complexity of the music still requires very focussed listening to gather up all of the many and disparate elements, but this is only to be expected with such layered and spellbinding compositions and arrangements
All in all The Forest Dark hangs together strongly as a body of work, with a very enticing atmosphere running across all of the songs. MJA restrains the full reach of his technical abilities somewhat, so the freaky tech-heads should also check out his other, self-titled, folk release
… although the version of this CD that I got includes a live version of “Meet Me”, a track from the first album with utterly unbelievable playing and singing. I hope he decides to include this track on all copies of The Forest Dark because it’s a brilliant way to round off the pensive airs and shadowy textures of this acoustic/folk masterpiece

Heathen Harvest Music Review by Henry Lauer



Review of 'michael-john azzopardi' (Self-Titled)album

The acoustic guitar is a humble instrument, and we are all well and truly acquainted with its deployment

as a simple, linear and – let’s not mince words – pedestrian musical device. Consequently it is

easy to forget that it is also capable of incredible emotion and complexity. Enter Michael-John Azzopardi’s self titled album. Featuring a mix of traditional songs (for example "Twa Corbies" and "The Little

Drummer") and his own compositions, Azzopardi proves himself to be a supernatural guitarist. His ability

to coax multiple melody lines out of the one instrument is simply breathtaking his mastery of pathos

atmosphere and intensity awe-inspiring

Most of the tracks on this album feature extended musical passages that wind and coil and carry us into wild and unmapped territory. Azzopardi demonstrates a genuinely classical aptitude for gathering momentum and exploring the rich possibilities of a theme. He filters blues, celtic, rock and jazz influences through six strings into a truly unmistakable voice. I daresay that most other singer-songwriters

facing the prospect of sharing a stage with him, would have to feel like utter fakes once his devastating

 music has been revealed

Speaking of singing – Mr Azzopardi’s voice is yet another wonder to behold. Whether soaring angelically or crooning with gravel, his vocals alone could carve him a great reputation. He knows how to coax

the feeling from a lyric, to husband it with tenderness, lust or wit as the moment dictates. Both his voice and his guitar are expert at expressing the subtlest sentiment and the most strident outburst

Perhaps my only complaint about this album is that the production falls down a little. Sometimes things

are not as clear or bright as I would have liked; sometimes some of the overdubbed parts sound like they could have been retaken just one more time to nail down the tightness of the performance. This is a little frustrating – I rather feel these songs deserve better treatment, although fortunately this complaint is relatively insignificant

Having been privileged with seeing him perform live several times I know what I am listening out for

without that advantage you might need a few spins to quite get the hang of things Trust me though – it’s easily worth this minor effort. And as you gradually make sense of the intricate arrangements, bearing in mind that often what sounds like two guitars is actually the one instrument and the one take – well

you won’t get tired of this music for a very long time. There is just so much to explore

Speaking also of exploration – some of these songs paint marvellous pictures of moments in space and time. "The Bells Of St Andrews" in particular sends me right back into similar memories I have of Sydney

Sunday mornings, their romance and the tranquillity of their vast potential. There’s a love of place and perhaps even humanity at work in at least a few of these songs that really sends shivers of delight

through me

This album is a total smorgasbord of inspired progressive folk genius. Every track has a unique feel and

atmosphere and Azzopardi deftly deploys a number of supporting instruments – mandolin, mandorla

blues harp and pipe – to deepen each song’s character. If you love music with passion, pathos or just plain spell-binding virtuosity then I highly recommend this release

Heathen Harvest Music Review by Henry Lauer



"Esoteric genius with a penchant for intricate acoustic masterpieces “…the intensity and depth of his compositions reach right into the listener and takes a firm hold on the soul. In fact, some of the progressions and arrangements are so mind-blowing they might be described as schizophrenic if they weren’t so goddamn sane, beautiful and eloquently reasoned! The poetic, philosophical lyrics–which are at the same time accessible and firmly rooted in everyday reality, or at least a lucid dream of it–also a hint at a remarkably multi–layered artistic force. Michael-John Azzopardi is not the sort of musician you can reasonably assume anything about

Guitarist Australia magazine

click on the "guitarist australia article" link to the left to read the full article



The Poet, The Painter

MICHAEL-JOHN Azzopardi is a quietly understated yet deeply complex artist – an artist as much as a songwriter and poet. Whilst the music he has selected for this debut independent

album is for the most part introspective and acoustically based, there is as much complexity within the word pictures he spins for the listener as there is an apparent simplicity in the melodies. Yet it’s all unpremeditated, as close to a true expression of the mind and soul of the artist as you’re going to get

Drum Media

click on the "room article" link to the left to read the full article



“I spied this place for the first time on Sunday of last week and saw Michael Azzopardi

(I shit you not, this acoustic singer/song-writer is ab-so-lute-ly, strictly, fucking amazing!)

See him people, he will blow your mind

Danny Murphy, Revolver, Music News



If you missed Thursday's show

you missed one of the best lineups we've ever presented. MC Sara Browne, The Mongrel Bastards

Matt Tonks, Nat Belly Slade and band and Michael Azzopardi...."Michael Azzopardi, driving driving

(yep, I said that twice) guitar and vocals closed the show, bringing the house down with him

Michael  is an instinctual  performer, reading the mood like a map and letting the music take him and the audience, where they need to be. What his inspiration is it’s hard to guess, but his music is driven with a passion that seems to well up from the earth

Hearing him play is only half of it. Like Matt Tonks, you have to watch for the full effect. I know you guys think I make this stuff up, and that it’s just hyperbole, but, like Cassandra,  I am compelled  to tell the truth. To have a lineup like that is every music  producer’s dream.  Matt Tonks and Michael Azzopardi on the same bill is enough, but add Nat, the Mongrel Bastards and Sara Browne

and you’ve got a show made in heaven

live review July 2005 at "the Local showcase" @Newtown