Melbourne-born Andy Szikla is alive. That's how the title song from his new album Dark Valley puts it. Thirty years of wearing various hats — gadget inventor, audio engineer, visual technician, tour manager, graphic designer, screen printer, banjo-picker, child-raiser, room service attendant — and you have a lot of stories to tell. Add that to life lived in places like America and China, and those stories broaden further, diversify. It's been a while since we've heard from Szikla. Think Ides of March, 87 Fat Girls, Kerri Simpson Trio, Mr Fish. Think twenty years ago. There's a lot of life in twenty years: love and loss; the acquisition of experience; coming to terms with the world, society and the solitary self. The condition of being alive.
Dark Valley is Andy Szikla's first solo album, and it is a beautiful thing. It seduces with its poetry, with its sound. The imagery is complex and many-layered, charged with significance both deeply personal and richly universal. The music is restrained — electric banjo, guitars, harmonium, pedal-steel, drums — and Szikla's voice at its centre like soft, slow rust. Dark Valley is its own place: it has its own boundaries, its own horizon. But it has the history of humanity as its heartbeat and spine. This album is at once no man's land, and everyman's land, and it deepens and darkens as its journey inward unfolds. As "a search for a country where the heart can find peace", it is an addictive listen.