Archive for the ‘Album review: roots’ Category

The most affecting track on guitarist Julius Schwing‘s 2016 album edge2:isthmus is a piece called ‘Nocturnal at The Neck’. It is little more than a field recording of Schwing playing guitar on the sand of The Neck, an isthmus on Schwing’s home, Bruny Island off Tasmania. What makes it special is the accompaniment of wind and sloughing waves, which Schwing reacts to in his playing.

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This music-as-nature idea appears to be the inspiration behind his new recording with Danish percussionist, Christian Windfield, called Rhubarb. The two got together on Bruny in early 2017, spending time playing music surrounded by the island’s pristine wilderness and unpredictable elements. The collaboration led to peformances at Hobart’s Schmørgåsbaag venue where Rhubarb was recorded.

Over two extended pieces – named ‘Baag 1’ and ‘Baag 2’ – the two move in perfect rapport through varying textures. Using only guitar and drums (and objects) they conjure a remarkable range of sounds, from the gossamer light to the sharply abrasive, a wide dynamic curve from minimal throb to clattering skitter.a3162837903_16

The only constant appears to be the influence of the wilds of Bruny Island. This is music achieving one of the ultimates: to play with the elements, as an element. All truly masterful instrumentalists reach a point where the instrument – the machine, the tool – is transcended and their playing becomes their voice, as a bird sings or a lover moans or the wind howls.

What Schwing and Windfield do here is deeply primal – they play sand and water and whistling winds, dried beach grasses and dawn fogs. It is mesmerising, and time is irrelevant, or at least reduced to the dreamtime clock of nature.

Rhubarb is the latest release on Julius Schwing’s Isthmus label. It is a small, creative music label that keeps coming up with consistently fascinating music. Take the time to have a listen – you may be surprised, as I was, to smell the salt of Bruny Island coming off the music.

This album and others are available from http://www.isthmus-music.com

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Like many communities outside the main urban centres, the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, has long had a thriving and self-seeding music scene. Artists as diverse as hip hoppers Hermitude and DIY roots wizard Claude Hay have sprung from the Mountains musical melting pot.

Linda Mizzi is a Blue Mountains singer-songwriter who, over a relatively short time, has come to the attention of festival audiences local and interstate. Her debut album, Real People, will doubtless expand her audience with its honesty, charm and simple gifts.

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Pic by Elizabeth Lawson

These twelve songs are written and sung very much from the heart. They are songs of everyman’s (and everywoman’s) blues – songs of longing, pain, joy and going down that road again.

Beautifully captured by Alexander Keller, who also plays bass (and sundry incidental instruments), the songs are allowed to breathe in their own atmosphere, rollout under their own sky. The musicians Mizzi has assembled have perfectly realised the nuances of her melodies and stories with intuition and balance, never cluttering or cloying the performances.

Keller and Mizzi have gone for a widescreen Americana palette here – desert moods and lonesome highways, the guitar of Stefano Cosentino painting the rangy vistas with reverb, tremelo and just plain good taste, and drummers Lindsay Tebbutt and Ian Morrison kicking things along with just the right amount of boot-heel.14761_linda

Players are added where needed – harp player Simon Crosbie breathes blues into ‘Crooked Man’ and ‘Mademoiselle”s rock’n’roll; Vince Pace‘s ethereal electric piano shimmers on ‘Qiqihar’ and his acoustic playing grounds the album closer ‘The Kind’ in gospel solemnity.

But it is Mizzi’s songs and her voice that make Real People such a pleasure. Her vocal has the country of Patty Griffin and Alison Krauss in it, but when the emotion rises, a honeyed burr enters the edge of it, to tell some low down Lucinda Williams tale. The album’s only cover, a measured and delicate reading of The Choirboys‘ (drummer Tebbutt’s old band) ‘Run to Paradise’ reminds of The Cowboy Junkies‘ hazy 1988 take on Lou Reed‘s ‘Sweet Jane’ – a ballad-like interpretation of a rocker, that turns the lyrics around to mean quite something else.

Real People is an impressive debut – especially considering Mizzi’s relative newcomer status. Doubtless it is that freshness that has her never second-guessing her listeners but speaking clear and pure from the heart.

Real People is real. And you don’t have to do much to be convinced, other than taking a listen. I think you should.

 

Linda Mizzi’s website is https://www.lindamizzi.com.au

It’s an irresistable sound and one that we 20th Century boys and girls took in with our mother’s milk.

The Morricone Tex-Mex Western sound that Sydney band The Dusty Ravens so beautifully make, immediately conjures visions of parched badlands, squinting lawmen and torrid tales of the good, the bad and the ugly. As previous generations had thrilled to the legends of the Roman and Greek gods, us post-1950s TV kids had our own myths of redemption, revenge and regret – all highly immoral morality tales full of larger-than-life figures who could shoot a man just to watch him die.

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The Dusty Ravens’ new album, Low Down Jimmy, is peopled with such mythic anti-heroes. Co-leader Andy Meehan‘s songs are all exquisitely bijou short-stories about Low Down Jimmys, Suzie Lees and ‘Cavalier cowgirl’s – there is a feeling that the song’s vignette is part of a much greater story, going on out of screen shot. And of course it is – the great tussle between Good and Evil, boiled down for now to one man tracking another across a sun-blasted dust bowl, a lone vulture keeping a glassy eye on them both.

The brass section of co-leader Maggie Raven, Kim Griffin and Jane Grimley works perfectly to evoke these American desert visions, over the top of Meehan’s steel-string acoustic, the double-bass of Catherine Golden and Mark Hetherington‘s drums. The sound is unique and is perfect for everything here – be it driving Mexicali wedding dance, Western ballad or freight-train boogie.dusty-ravens

The packaging and presentation of Low Down Jimmy is also unique – instead of opting for the usual CD or download, The Dusty Ravens have presented the album as a 16-page art book with download card. Drummer Hetherington’s artwork is the perfect compliment to the music: scratchy illustrations over parched earth-tone grounds, evoking the dryness and dusty sun blasts of the band’s musical landscape.

A special treat is the lone cover version here – ‘Red Pony’ by David McComb, no stranger to the evoking of high and lonesome wide open spaces himself. It is a beautiful song, saying so much with the barest of means, and as such is in good company on Low Down Jimmy.

 

 

Well-meaning friends, from time to time, alert me to Youtube clips of 8 year old Japanese Yngwie Malmsteens or junior Jaco bass shredders or, best (worst) of all, 12 year old Blues screamers.

While I admire the meticulous programming that is takes to get these little automatons to such a level of facility, I am general left yearning for a gnarly Dexter Gordon ballad or at least a few croaked Leonard Cohen lines. Because it is a life fully lived that ultimately makes for good – and real – music.

East Coast songwriter Marguerite Montes has lived a full, rich and colourful life – much of it in exciting boho circumstances, some of it in pain and darkness. Her new album of songs with violinist Peter Urquhart is informed, bruised and kissed with the ins/ups and outs/downs of her life. The eight songs on All the Time in The World are performed in a voice that carries the years in it – but is not worn out by them, only burnished to a clear, fine-grained glow, like any well-tuned and well-loved instrument.

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Five of the eight songs here are sung in Spanish, obviously saved from losing too much in translation to English. The three songs in English are full of depth, wry humour and spark. Joni Mitchell comes to mind as a sister songwriter, but largely for the toughness of spirit and depth of poetry here – in every way, Montes is her own woman.

Opening track ‘Navegar’ (‘Set Sail’) shows the effectiveness of Urquhart’s violin against Montes’ gut-string guitar and voice, lending the tune a deep gypsy flavour. At once intimate and full, this combination works equally well on the country flavoured ‘Big Beautiful Smile’ or the Bossa/jazz styled ‘Amor Fugaz’, Urquhart bringing to mind Stéphane Grappelli‘s spry work with Django Reinhardt.

All the Time in The World paints vignettes of shared experiences, especially those shared by women the world over (and down through the ages). Montes says ‘Navegar’ is about “finding yourself in the blue of the sky and the green of the sea far from everything.” ‘Asi E El Amor’ is about “unconditional love. How it seeks out the darkness to flood it with light. Love is the laughter if children floating in the wind.”std_15650

But among the poetry there is an earthiness that brings to the surface Montes’ Andalusian folk roots. “‘Soy Impulsiva’ (‘I Am Impulsive’) is about a woman who is many things to her man but when she needs him, he goes off with his mates to get plastered…’

Album closer, the title track ‘All the Time in The World’, is like a long-lost standard from the Jazz Age. Its late-night feel and street-lit ambience perfectly suit the lyric and Montes’ stylish delivery. Only a voice and a singer who has lived the song could sing it so real and so deep.

Recorded in only two one-hour sessions, All the Time in The World has a spontaneous, very human dimension to it; much of it coming from the chemistry between singer and violinist, a chemistry that Montes says made them “capable of conjuring Duende”.

Duende is a state of heightened emotion and expression – the essence of Soul. It took Marguerite Montes and Peter Urquhart a chance meeting and a few hours to conjure it. But in many ways it has taken Marguerite Montes a lifetime to conjure Duende and All the Time in The World.

 

 

 

In the boys’ club of Australian Blues, there is a dearth of stand-out women bandleaders. And the few who rise to the top are almost all singers. Which is great, but in a music that in built on the conversation between a human call and a tart guitar response, surprisingly few play blues guitar on the level of a Shane Pacey, Kirk Lorange or Jan Rynsaardt.

One who does is Christina Crofts. And no one plays guitar like Christina Crofts.

A rising voice in the Australian Blues world, Crofts consistently peels back the ears of audiences with her razor-toothed slide guitar work and very Lucinda Williams vocal and attitude. Her playing, performing and songwriting is imbued with the spirit of her late husband Steve, one of this country’s most underrated guitarists.

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But Croft’s voice is very much her own and on her new EP – Like We Used To – she has realised the strongest expression of it yet.

Opener ‘Breakaway’ rolls in like a howling thunderstorm, shot through with the white lightning of Crofts’ Stratocaster. The rhythm section of Stan Mobbs and Tony Boyd literally thunder under the guitars – Crofts and engineer Russell Pilling have gone for the  over-amped Marshall sound of much contemporary blues here, and it is a force of nature.

The title track, ‘Like We Used To’, which follows is a tasty, upbeat contrast. A spry piece of Tex-Mex rock’n’roll, it has a sweetly nostalgic feel and a warm ear-worm of a guitar lick. It also brings out the country edge to Crofts’ vocal, which is a perfect foil to her six-string work.covers-0001

‘Don’t Cry’ is even more country rock’n’roll with the groove held steady under the sure tiller of Mobbs and Boyd.

Closer ‘Lucy’ is a juicy Little Feet latino-funk groove which tells a story of Bad Woman Blues. Crofts’ slide-guitar here virtually scratches your eyes out from the first note, its tone befitting the morality tale of the home-wrecking protagonist. Crofts’ lyrics throughout deserve a mention: they work on classic blues and roots templates, as you want, but have a wit and originality about them which is a relief in an often cliché-sodden genre.

It’s been a long wait since 2008’s Midnight Train for some new music from Christina, but Like We Used To will convince anyone with ears that she is back and ready to spit sparks. Watch out boys – she’s the hellhound on your trail.

Like We Used To is available from Christina Crofts’ website – https://www.christinacrofts.com/store

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

 

Three years after their debut, national treasure The Melbourne Ska Orchestra delivers their new album, Sierra Kilo Alpha.

Nicky Bomba‘s thirty-piece ska juggernaut have taken things up a notch with Sierra Kilo Alpha – the sounds of course are still rooted in classic ska but shot through with Cuban, Jamaican and inner-city Melbourne colours. For an album recorded in the winter of 2015, it is pretty damn sunny and hot to trot.

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The snaky, swirling melody of opener ‘Escher’ sets the mission statement – heavy on the horns, beefy on the funk, yet with enough of the dancing lightness of snap-brim ska to get your ass on the floor. Pat Powell‘s knowing vocal – as all across Sierra Kilo Alpha – comes across with a grin and a worldly wink.

Leading single ‘Funkchuck’ is chunky, funky and motors along on a rocksteady groove to where it’s going. ‘Bombay Detective’ opens with sitar-exotica – like so many arrangements here, it suggest a movie-for-your-mind: a thrill-ride thriller, moody, racy, noir.Melb ska orch2

‘Nothing in The Way’ has a circular, snaking riff, like the opener, ‘Escher’ which shows the quiet genius in Bomba’s horn and rhythm arrangements – nothing gets in the way of the groove, yet there is always so much to listen to on the way.

Afro-Cuban flavours sepia ‘Solitary Island Sway’ and ‘Special Thing’ while the largely instrumental ‘Vespa Ska’ has tremolo spaghetti-Western guitar setting the showdown scene. ‘Sly Boots’ (my gold star for next single) is Nutty Boy ska with a gold-plated hook.

The sound is huge and the band is tight; the MSO will be touring with up to 30 players, taking Sierra Kilo Alpha across Australia (prior to going to London and beyond, where they are adored). And as throbbingly vital as this album is, you know their live shows will be through the big-top roof. Don’t miss them.

Published May 2016 on theorangepress.net