Who knows how these things happen – my Reviewer’s Box was one day filled with a bunch of new releases that said one thing to me: The Song isn’t dead, after all.

Hell it’s not even ailing. And here was me thinking The Song had passed; lately the evidence wasn’t good, with national Song of the Year gongs going to insipid ukelele bleats and Grammies being throw at nursery rhyme la-la songs. Harsh I know – but we all get those moods from time to time.

Sydney artist Adrian O’Shea‘s Dr Taos album helped lift me out of the fug. Named for O’Shea’s alter-ego under which he performs and records, the whole shebang is as cool as his portrait on the inner sleeve. (Check out the good Doctor: shades, tiger-pattern suit, on a velvet and gilt lounge – you know this album is going to have Style).

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And style it has – O’Shea’s songs are informed by everything from British Pop to US art-rock, a little bit country, a lot folk and everything in between. And yet, was with all good (not to say great) songwriting, his work is all of the above and yet none of it. No pastiche or wannabe here: the songs are his and his alone, written from his heart and sung from his soul.

And it is O’Shea’s voice that is Dr Taos’ secret weapon – in all of popular music a strong song, put across by a truly affecting voice is an irresistible one-two punch. Add to this the songwriter singing his own songs, with all the drama, depth and nuance conveyed and that one-two becomes a triple whammy.taos1

The classic English power-pop of opener ‘Merry Go Round Thieves’ grabs you immediately (great guitar playing too – the guitar playing and classic range of tones all across the album is  a personal delight). ‘Pick You Up’ is wide-eyed psychedelia. The songs range from the epic (the expansively named, and sounding, ‘Forever of Tomorrow’) to the sweetly intimate (‘Love Strikes’). There are Celtic hills and country roads and gritty urban alleys and noisy clubs. It is quite a trip, yet O’Shea’s songs are strong enough to hold it all together – we start at the same place, and we know we will come Home to the same place.

Like all exceptional Pop writing, you feels as if you have heard this line or that hook somewhere before, and you just can’t put your finger on it – but of course you haven’t. The only problem is Dr Taos – at fourteen substantial songs – is maybe a little long for a single serve.

But which of these fourteen good’uns would you lose? It would be a hard edit. Adrian O’Shea has pulled a remarkably consistent stream of great work from his creative inner.

He is off to Europe soon to tour this album – Dr Taos. I do hope he comes back to us. We wouldn’t want to lose him.

In a week where we read sad talk of Angus Young retiring AC/DC, Australia’s greatest rock’n’roll export, this CD popped up in my Reviewer’s Box. And it cheered me right up again.

Back In Blue: A Blues Tribute to AC/DC is more than a gathering of the tribes, more than just a summit meeting of Australia’s leading blues artists. It is a project conceived by Queensland musician, Darren Griffis, as a shot in the arm for depression-busting organisation, Beyond Blue.

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Each artist has taken a track of the AC/DC album Back In Black and reinterpreted it in their own image. It’s a smart idea, and one that comes off as brilliantly as one would expect.

From Geoff Atchison’s slinky ‘Hell’s Bells’ with vocalist Jane Michele (fading in out of a smart, scene-setting cut-up of radio grabs announcing Bon Scott’s shocking and untimely death), via Chase The Sun’s heavy ‘Shoot To Thrill’ (wunderkind Jan Rynsaardt sizzling on guitar) to acoustic superstar Lloyd Spiegel’s chugging ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’, Back In Blue: A Blues Tribute to AC/DC is a thrill ride for lovers of modern blues – and anyone else with ears and a soul.

Treats along the way are hair-raising Hammond organ whizz, Lachy Doley – also a hell of a singer – showing no mercy to ‘Back In Black’ and Eightball Aitken’s surprisingly slinky (and waaaay more believably horny than the original) ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. Back In Blue1

Gail Page’s almost gospel-tinged take on ‘What You Do For Money Honey’ and Genevieve Chadwick’s whiskey-throated ‘Have a Drink on Me’ show why they will always be regarded by we humble subjects as this country’s Queens of the Blues.

Special mention (and a shiny gold star) goes to Marshall Okell flipping the randy ‘Giving The Dog A Bone’ on its black head. Okell’s strutting mid-song rap on depression and fight-back spirit takes the double-entendre sleaze out of the original and replaces it with grit and guts.

It is significant that producer Darren Griffis chose Back In Black to hang the Back In Blue project on, as the original album was AC/DC’s declaration of mourning for recently deceased singer and icon Bon Scott. Yet it was also a statement of spirit and strength, a rallying cry to carry on in the face of tragedy. Let’s hope Back In Blue reaches out to those those who need its spirit the most.

 

Watching Gary Daley’s astounding Bungarribee quartet you realise it is actually the classic jazz saxophone quartet lineup – but a number of times removed: the sax is Paul Cutlan’s bass clarinet, the piano now Daley’s accordian, the bass replaced by the cello of Oliver Miller and the drum kit by hand-drums, talking drums, bells and anything else Tunji Beier can lay his amazing hands on.

The music, equally, is located somewhere to the north-east of jazz but definitely south-south-west of European art music. The quartet grew out of Daley’s larger ‘Sanctuary’ project, yet retains that ensemble’s unique breadth of vision, and intricate interweaving of composed and improv elements.

M’ville’s cosy and velvet draped Django Bar was treated to Bungarribee last Thursday. Maybe it was the coziness, maybe it was the large pinot shouted me by good friend Dave Delilah, but for their all-too-short set I was there, miles away, north-east of jazz, south-south-west of Europe, basking in that colourful tropic that Bungarribee make their own.

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As well as the unique instrumentation, subtle electronic loops weave in and out of the music, adding yet another layer of exoticism. Such a loop opened Daley’s ‘Bungarribee Road’, unannounced and slowly quieting the room conversation as it grew into melody and some funky Cutlan and Daley solos.

Ligeti was next. The master’s ‘Musica Ricercata No 7’ opened with a bass clarinet loop from Paul Cutlan. Cutlan was in his patented mystic zone; the music had the room levitating. We found ourselves also in Fats’ ‘Jitterbug Waltz’ – Daley’s accordion duetting the ecstatic jaunt of that melody and playing around with every syllable of it in their improvs.

Oliver Miller’s ‘Somewhere’ was based on a fragment of ‘Over The Rainbow’; maybe a more indigo part of the spectrum, shot through with the startling yellows and reds of shrieks and moans of Miller’s cello and Cutlan’s alto (then down to almost silence of the padding clacking of the alto’s keys).

An untitled African tune inspired by Daley’s viewing of a YouTube clip featured Beier on talking drum – big 6/8 fun (and all it’s variations, and huge effervescence from the band).

Daley announced there was “so much more music to play” but only time for one more – we were as sad as he was. Gladly he picked his own piece ‘Hunger’ which, he explained, is about the drive, the hunger, to make Art. A driving and sinous 7/8 groove and melody, ‘Hunger’ left us and the band giddy and a little spent.

I, and I am sure the rest of the lucky Django audience, floated home. Bungarribee – Daley, Cutlan, Miller and Beier – had taken us somewhere over their own rainbow. I, for one, cannot wait to go back.

It was a couple of Byron Bay Bluesfests ago when I came across Glenn Cardier again. Seeing his name up, I had made a point of checking him and his crack band, The Sideshow in one of the smaller festival venues. I’m glad I did – apart from being up close to the band (I am quickly losing enthusiasm for the huge tents and screens), I was mesmerised by Cardier, in pork pie and shades, front and centre,  growling his strange songs, his acoustic guitar driving the band and the crowd.

I had been a fan in the 70s. Glenn Cardier always stood out to me, seemingly of a different tribe than the grizzled ‘young fogeys’ who made up the singer-songwriters of the times. Apart from the freak-cabaret whiff of his bowler hat, Lennon specs and waistcoat, his songs seemed wryly funny, yet dark. And always entirely original.

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After seemingly bobbing up on every festival bill and touring the world with that other existential jester, Spike Milligan, Cardier retired for 25 years. In early 2002 he returned to low key gigs, and now has given us his fifth album since his 21st century resurrection, Cool Under Fire.

Recorded almost entirely by himself, with the help of some heavy friends such as Sideshow (and everywhere else) guitarist, Rex Goh and country darlin’ Catherine BrittCool Under Fire is a rich helping of what we love about Cardier. The songs are wry and droll, many illuminated with a cinematic glare or dark-street noir. The humour is there – the hilarious pulp detective ‘A Case of Mistaken Identity’ and the everyman-Elvis of ‘Impersonation of The King’; a lot of it, of course, dark and world-weary, such as ‘Cold Light of Day’ (a Weimar gypsy lurch, tipsy as Kurt Weill). CUF-cov-400

There are the Pop smarts that raise a writer like Cardier above many of his genre: ‘Win Some, Lose Some’ is loaded with hooks and the harmony of ‘Welcome Home, Johnny-Oh’ is a darker shade of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. And of course, commensurate with Cardier’s novelistic approach to lyric, there is romance – the romance of rock’n’roll with its cars (gotta be Cadillacs, Jim), sexual heat and girls girls girls (‘She had bumper-bullets that would do a Cadillac proud‘) but also sweet, everyday romance of the sort that keeps your average, jobbing muso existential jester going.

‘The Day I Fell In Love With You’ is perhaps one of the loveliest, most unadorned love songs I have heard for a long time. Here, Cardier reminds me (not for the first time on they album) of the late American singer Warren Zevon. Cardier, like Zevon’s in his tender moments, is happy to drop artifice and cleverness if something needs to be said plain and simple. This country simple approach raises a smile in ‘Loretta’ and lifts the heart in ‘Rise and Shine’ – a song of hope.

But it wouldn’t be Glenn Cardier if he didn’t leave us with a wink, and a shadow-play and maybe a twinge of loss. ‘The Last Jukebox’ seems set in a post-civilisation Mad-Maxscape, all dust and empty desert winds. It seems dark, listless – with all hope fading out to a pale glimmer. And yet:

“Only one thing left to do –,
Only one thing left to do –,
Come on now, come over here,
It’s gonna be alright –, 
Only one thing left to do.

Dance.”

 

Cool Under Fire is released 1 August 2016.
For more information go to www.glenncardier.com

Sydney (via Melbourne) singer-songwriter Bill Hunt has released his debut album Upwey.

I use the title ‘singer-songwriter’, not as a descriptor of a songwriter who sings his own songs, but because this exceptional collection brings to mind that short, golden time during the early 70s when the Singer-Songwriter ruled – before the noisy boys in band pushed to the fore and pushed him/her off the front of the stage. It was a time when The Song was all, a rich time of  thoughtful, introverted, often mysterious, always personal braids of melody, lyrics and voice knitted into a perfect tapestry – or more precisely, Tapestry. All that was needed was a wooden guitar, a voice and now and again a simpatico band of musicians.

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Photo: Will Vickers

Upwey gets its title from the Victorian country location where Hunt recorded with Matt Walker. There’s simpatico right there. Walker’s steady hand on the tiller guides the entire album organically down a deep and willow-hung river – the whole thing has a gypsy jam feeling, an informality reminiscent of (yet not as tightly wound as) Astral Weeks. The band – Grant Cummerford on bass, Ash Davies on drums, Kris Schubert on occasional piano and Hammond and Alex Burkoy on violin – play like they have grown up with these six beautiful songs.

Burkoy’s violin – veering to sweet country fiddle just where it needs to – gives the album a Dylan Desire feel and lends the proceedings a unique gypsy perfume. His playing in and around the lyric lines adds so much – almost like a female mirror to Hunt’s words or a country blues response to his call.

Opener ‘Everything is Going to Change’ is melancholy minor-key country rock and you immediately get drawn in by Hunt’s voice – high, lonesome with a keening edge that is American and Celtic and Australian. I make much of Hunt’s vocal quality because it is what drew me to his music first up – doesn’t a music’s ‘sound’ get you first every time? Across Upwey his voice moves from hurt, to declamatory, to bent-by-blues, once even to an almost Gospel frenzy. This is why it is hard to beat a songwriter singing his/her own songs: the music and words are their very breath.Upwey1

‘You’ll Understand’ is a brighter song with a darker heart. A song of not-so-sorry goodbye. ‘The truth is, I’ve got another call to make/And I don’t want to be late…’

The bossa-swung ‘Sea of Love’ flows with ripples of lust and Desire – “Lips all sticky bittersweet/Like everything a man like me has ever been forbidden”. The lyrics here trip over themselves, tumble more like spoken words, which brings to mind (not for the last time on Upwey) the unique phrasing of Paul Simon.

‘Odalik’ also has those tumbled word phrases and much more. An entirely original song construct, it seems a cut-up of country pop, Spanish sketches, folk tango and church drone – all of which serve the moonlit dreamscape, verging on the dim-lit nightmare, of this remarkable song and lyric.

The almost seven minute ‘What you Choose’ has Hunt serenading the street-life in and around him, in an almost Van Morrison/James Joyce stream-of-consciousness linear rave. It captivates with pictures, some drawn by a child’s hand, some painted by a drunk Dylan, some harshly photographed by a journalist (all of which Hunt, the lyricist, is) – ‘There’s an old man walking up and down the street reading ‘Shop Closed’ window signs…/A dressing grown and a broken polystyrene cup in his hand/Sandals on his feet make him seem like Jesus to me/As he comes in closer I can see the yellow whites of his teeth…’

‘Song 55’ begins with the line ‘Some have a mad desire to succeed’ and ends, 4:10 later, with the line ‘Some have a mad desire to be free…’ (Hunt’s ellipses, not mine this time). The line peters out on that ellipses, and the album comes to a soft but sudden stop. There is a strong feeling of mortality, resignation and humanity. There is also a strong feeling of To Be Continued… (my ellipses again, this time).

Bill Hunt says of songwriting: “I want it so much to be like a trade, or at least a craft… I want it to be useful. I want to feel that there is some sort of mechanism – buttons, levers to push and pull like on a lathe or a drill-press, or a milling machine.”

He also says, of Upwey: “In closing, I will simply say that my dearest wish is that this recording serves no useful purpose, ever.”

Contradictory? Dark humour? Or the musings of a unique lyrical and artistic thinker. I stump for the latter, with flavours of the former two – Upwey is, at six tracks, a glimpse into a remarkable voice that is one of the most rewarding listens I have had for a while.

Bill Hunt writes: “Second album is in the works – I’m kinda hooked now.”

So am I, Bill. Kinda hooked.

 

Upwey launched July 7, 2016.

Upwey is available at Bandcamp https://billhuntmusic.bandcamp.com/album/upwey

Check Bill’s Facebook page for live launch dates  – https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009119425732&fref=ufi

 

 

Tasmanian guitarist Julius Schwing has recorded a love letter to an isthmus.

The Neck is a narrow band of land on Bruny Island and Schwing has drawn on years of living with The Neck – and with all its moods ­­– to create edge2:isthmus as part of a collaboration with visual artists for MONA FOMA 2016.

He has absorbed the spirit and the magic of the Neck into his own body and released it as music using the sparest of means: the traditional jazz guitar trio of guitar, acoustic bass and drums. It needs nothing else to convey everything he needs to say.

Isthmus2Schwing writes: “When standing at the Neck I see/hear the environment along a pitch scale. Or a colour scale.”

As well as being about this unique formation specifically, edge2:isthmus seems to be about nature. It is also about man as part of nature, paradoxically fighting and hurting the thing he is has an inextricable link to.

‘From Within The Car Of A Comfortable Tourist’ bounces with a West African gait, almost comically depicting said Tourist, who I bet stays in his car, snapping away with his iPhone (great bass solo from Nick Haywood here).

‘They’re Gonna Seal The Road’ is a minor Spaghetti Western blues – an ‘agonised lament for the gravel road’, a weep for a small paradise, and its ‘prettiness’, paved over.

But, away from the anger, it is Schwing’s affirming pieces that make this album for me.

Opener ‘From Above’ ululates like wings, like a propeller as we rise into the sky and look down upon The Neck. ‘The Isthmus Exists’ is a statement of the nature of nature: change comes and goes, nature always is; The Isthmus Is.

‘Neck Nocturnal’ (based, it says here, on Ornette’s ‘Lonely Woman’) is Schwing painting The Neck after dark. It is lively – ‘I feel The Neck sleeps during the day and only comes alive at night’ – its guitar/bass/drums dance bringing to mind the great organic spark of John Abercrombie with Jack deJohnette and Dave Holland on ‘Gateway’ and other 70’s ECMs.Isthmus1

Last track ‘Quaternary Rage’ has the sound of anger – low growling guitar, squalling squealing bass, pulverised pulverising drums (drummer Alf Jackson, so sensitively intelligent on all other tracks, brutally storming here) – but it is not about anger, it is about natural power. It is the force of a roiling boiling storm blitzing The Neck from all sides – ‘the sand gets pushed around by all the elements’. This is nature grinding away, smashing and reshaping itself, with itself.

The most affecting piece on edge2:isthmus is ‘Nocturnal at The Neck’ – simply a restatement of the ‘Neck Nocturne’ theme played solo by Schwing. Solo, yet not solo – he is accompanied by the wind, and the soughing waves of The Neck itself. ‘Nocturnal at The Neck’ is recorded on the beach en plein air. It is a reminder that the wind of the Neck, the waves, the sand, the weeds, the millions of one-celled sand dwellers and the birds of the air are as much musical contributors to edge2:isthmus as are Schwing, Jackson and Haywood.

Listen and let The Neck surround and wash over you. You won’t hear anything like edge2:isthmus this year or any other past or future.

edge2:isthmus is available from Isthmus Music at www.isthmus-music.com

It’s a hell of a thing, a virtuoso jazz soloist in full flight across the top of a sizzling big band. Dizzy Gillespie playing ‘in the cracks’ of any one of his bebop big bands comes to mind. And much more recently NZ tenor wiz Roger Manins at the 2013 Jazzgroove Festival (remember them?) blowing against (within/around/between) the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra’s Bob Brookmeyer charts. Breathtaking stuff.

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Scott Tinkler

The Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra have now collaborated with another celebrated soloist – Melbourne trumpeter Scott Tinkler – on what JMO Artistic Director David Theak calls “our most ambitious large scale project.” The result is Fiddes vs Tinkler, a stunning recording of a work written by composer Andy Fiddes.

Fiddes vs Tinkler is an extended suite of seven pieces, broken by three interludes. The pieces are weighty and complete; the interludes are more about texture and pure colour – each a ‘breather’ of its own hue and shape: ‘Conundrum’’s smoky flutes and clarinets, ‘The Sound of Struggling’’s silvery trumpet streaks across the saxes, before a surprise of heavy power-chords; ‘Past Nirvana’’s web of guitar/piano counterpoint under Theak’s soprano.

Despite the mock-combative title of the album (cheekily supporting by the prize-fight graphics of Rattle JAZZ’s UnkleFranc) the main pieces are constructed to support, colour and dance with Tinkler’s probing and revealing trumpet.

In a world of finger-shredders, lip-rippers and über-noodlers, Scott Tinkler is a complete player who reminds us that virtuosity is not about prestidigitation but about potential. His technical facility, while jaw-dropping, is not there to drop jaws but to open doors – the horn is there to serve his imagination, wherever it may go.

His solo on ‘Pilgrimage’ (the standout to me on Fiddes vs Tinkler) goes places many of us have never heard the trumpet go – full of howls, cries, new pain and old shadows. Across Fiddes vs Tinkler, he rarely fails to surprise, drawing new shapes in the air and working through the byzantine windows and corridors of Fiddes’ suite.Fiddes_vs_Tinkler1

Andy Fiddes’ writing shines as bright as Tinkler’s playing. The range of colours, the breadth of ideas ­– so many audacious chances taken, chances that all work beautifully – the mastery of the idiom: pushing the big idea of The Big Band forward while deeply knowing its traditions (you can hear echoes of the history all across Fiddes vs Tinkler). The rising dawn of ‘Introduction – Awakening’, the Spanish tinged ‘Steps In the Dark’, the almost organically unfurling growth of ‘Gaffer Work’, the blazing energy of ‘Gathering Momentum’ and ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ (Tinkler’s solo here questioning, answering, questioning).

The JMO ­– a band bristling with great soloists itself – realises Fiddes’ compositions immaculately, the ensemble playing lending the quiet passages a real translucency, the heavy sections some tough, burnished muscle. There are exceptional supporting solos from tenor players Evan Harris (his chromatic entry into his ‘Steps In The Dark’ tenor solo made me laugh out loud, joyful) and Matt Keegan, and the always-surprising guitarist Carl Morgan.

Fiddes vs Tinkler is set to become a landmark work in Australian jazz. On every level it adds thrills to a genre and a culture that one is surprised can still surprise, to such a level.

Yes, it’s hell of a thing.

The JMO launch Fiddes vs Tinkler at Foundry 616 on 25 July, 2016.

The CD is available from Rattle JAZZ at www.rattlerecords.net