Album Review: Bill McGill Enchants With ‘Last Night At The Ha-Ra’

France-based musician, Bill McGill’s— formely Rowdy Doody of the cult power pop band Tina Peel— new album ‘Last Night at the Ha-Ra’ is one of the best concept albums we have heard this decade.

Bill McGill’s voice is quietly compelling; the man is not a technically strong singer, but his roasted-coffee tones are reminiscent of 1980s era-Dylan, with a smattering of a Tom Waits gravel. And just like Dylan and Waits, McGill’s real strength resides in his song-writing. ‘Last Night at the Ha-Ra’ is a concept album in the vein of ‘Rain Dogs’, and McGill weaves a patchwork-quilt of eclectic characters in the 36 minute run-time.

A rock-drama revolving around a group of regulars sharing drinks and stories at their favourite San-Francisco bar, ‘Last Night at the Ha-Ra’ is a triumph of character-building. These are real people telling real stories; their tales of life, love and death encompass the totality of the human condition. There is the almost-inappropriately jaunty ‘Bullet Made of Gold’, recounting a soured relationship, and one of the most affecting tracks, ‘Strange’, sung by a man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, contemplating euthanasia.

‘Last Night at the Ha-Ra’ can easily be reimagined as a stage-play, perhaps a nod to Bill McGill’s love of Roger and Hammerstein musicals. Like a modern-day bard, he fully inhabits each dramatis personae, their hopes, their dreams, their idiosyncrasies, and the result is a fleshed-out portrait of the character in question.

McGill’s adeptness at characterisation manifests itself in the diversity of sound displayed on the album. Each track sounds distinct, functioning as a perfect microcosm of each individual.  Such a feat requires considerable musical proficiency, and McGill has enlisted the help of some exceptional musicians. Pete Thomas, drummer for Elvis Costello and the Attractions, plays drums on the album and eminent French accordionist and Sony artist, Daniel Mille, provides the accordion and bandoneon.

This an album that is guaranteed to enchant everyone who relishes a good story; this is not music for the background, but rather deserves your full and undivided attention.

Check out more from Bill McGill on the links below: