Archive for the ‘Album review: roots’ Category

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

Years ago, Australian novelist Xavier Herbert appeared on a chat show where he was asked his opinion on a solution to the ‘Aboriginal problem’ (it was the 70’s).

Herbert was well known for his epic novel Poor Fellow My Country which was one of the first to show a deep understanding of the culture – as well as the plight – of Indigenous Australians. After giving it some thought, he very quietly said “I think we should all get back on our boats and go home.”

The statement was, of course, meant to explain the difficulty of the situation – white Australians are not British, just as white South Africans are not Dutch. We cannot go home; this is our home and we need to work towards an understanding and bonding with the First People.

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Kangaroo Valley bard Andy Gordon has long tapped into this in his music. His 2013 album, The Reverent Jorfy contained songs pertaining to the story of Jimmy Governor, created in collaboration with Governor’s great granddaughter, Aunty Loretta Parsley. Yet, Gordon has never treated it is a problem, he has gone the other way: ignoring the sticky politics and opening himself up to the spirit and wonder of Indigenous people and their world-view.

Along the way, an important collaborator of Gordon’s has been Syd Green – multi-instrumentalist, muse and owner/producer at MonoNest Studios on the NSW South Coast. Green is a great sound-shaper; the studio’s relaxed vibe and ‘in the moment’ attitude of his approach has yielded consistently satisfying results. In fact, I would say that there is a ‘MonoNest sound’ evident across the myriad recordings I have heard over the last few years: rich and country-deep, acoustic-based yet inclusive of any technology that works – it has cap-S Soul, which ever way you want to define it.

Andy Gordon’s new album, New Albion, benefits in equal measure from his songwriter’s craft as well as Green’s ‘MonoNest sound’. Gordon has constructed a series of songs conceptually linked around the early settlement of Sydney – and the interaction with the Indigenous Australians of the region – and Green, through sound-shaping and his usual simpatico meshing with Gordon’s songs, has given them the perfect setting and atmosphere. The result is very real and very beautiful.

The songs have a depth brought about by Gordon’s respectful research, such as opener ‘Lieutenant Dawes’ – based on the relationship between the First Fleet astronomer, William Dawes and the fifteen-year old Indigenous boy, Patyegarang. They also have a breadth which comes purely from Gordon’s big-hearted song craft – ‘Warra Warra’ is an instrumental featuring Green on keening slide guitar; the atmosphere is one of a boat on water, and yet conjures the surreal and alien feeling both the First Fleeters would have had sailing into Port Jackson and the local Aborigines would have had sighting these strange new ‘floating islands’. gordon new albion2

‘Circles In the Sand’, about Governor Philip’s misunderstanding of the Port Jackson peoples and ‘Always Hungry’ – a poignant and sharp reminder of how ill-equipped the settlers were to the new land – paint pictures of those times as real as earth and as deep as roots. ‘Patye’s Song’ and ‘Ngiya Ngai’ show Green’s great ability to create a small world for the life of a song – only three or four minutes, but complete in every way: on ‘Ngiya Ngai’ he blends drums, percussion, guitars (both electric and acoustic), string bass and organ into a sky and sea that surrounds you and laps at your feet.

All across New Albion the heart of Gordon’s songs could not beat in a better breast than the one made by Green. Gordon writes: “All tape distortion, analogue compression, analogue anomalies and hiss, buildings, hallways, rooms, doors, traffic or environmental noise or anything unusual you may hear is intentional and has been crafted carefully into this project.”

Gordon also writes, in his extensive and must-read liner notes: “I hope this album starts you on a journey to know more. First step might be to do some reading if that makes you comfortable, but i have found that meeting and talking to (Indigenous) Australians is really the way to go. I feel more like an Australian for knowing real Australians. I hope you will feel the same”.

Published September 2015 on theorangepress.net

When it comes to new music, most times I have to go looking for the good stuff. But sometimes the good stuff comes looking for me.

Lunching with my wife at Hobart’s MONA on the last day of a holiday in early January, I was transfixed by the music wafting like a perfumed breeze up from the stage in the greenspace below.

I made a mental note to discover who made such lovely sounds and which instruments gave it its unique musical tang. But not long after returning to Sydney, John Robinson – oud master ­– sent me out the album of his new project, Horse & Wood. It was he and his musical partner, Bukhchuluun Gangburged who had made the music that I had heard and loved at MONA.

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Robinson, I knew from various performances in diverse settings – even including jazz collaborations – and have long been aware of his mastery and great soulful flair on al’ Oud (‘the wood’ in Arabic). Gangburged’s instrument is the Morin Khuur, the Mongolian horse-head fiddle, and so the name of their collaboration, and of their debut album is, fittingly and simply, Horse & Wood.

Horse & Wood is the new fruit of Robinson and Gangburged’s coming together at the 2011 Woodford Folk Festival. Working from a traditional folk base, the two spin their music out in many directions – after all, these instruments were not born to play together, so you have Mongolian/Turkish fusions, Mongolian/bluegrass mash-ups and even a Mongolian/Hot Club meld of the Gitane-smoky gypsy jazz standard ‘Dark Eyes’. horse & wood 1

It all works beautifully because at its heart is folk music – that music that is without vanity, that music which tells tales of the everyday, tales of the unchangeables such as birth, weather, pain, wild wedding parties and graves on windswept bare grassy hills.

Gangburged’s fiddle adds a beautiful, mellow colour to the music but his singing is what astounds. As well as a naturally warm voice, he also uses the technique of Mongolian Khoomei or throat singing. My soft, pink Western ears initially found its guttural texture rough and often harsh, but on the next listening I could hear the veins of wood, the rough skin of stone, the weathered leather of saddles in its grain. And when he switches to harmonic singing – a dark-toned whistle that is as unearthly as it is transporting ­– I hear wind through pine needles, shaking off snow.

Whenever I hear music that has deep, deep roots in folk music, there is a small moment when its depth and lack of vain pride makes most other musics – jazz, classical, the more puffed-up forms of rock and roll – seem absurdly pompous and cloying, overworked with messy filigree.

Of course that moment passes, but I am left with a small barb, a little ache for that sweet simplicity. Horse & Wood, the duo and the album, soothes my ache just that little bit. It is already a favourite.

 

Published March 2015 on megaphoneoz.com

There is a place called Americana – not to be confused with that all too real country, America – where everything is larger than ordinary life, where feelings run hot and sorrow can make the world come to an end at least once an hour. It is a place where the population is not bothered by parking tickets (unless they lead to a stretch in jail) or taxes (unless the taxman closes down the farm); a place where all women have great strong hearts, which are easily bruised, and every man will gladly destroy his life for a woman with a great big strong bruised heart.

Not to be found on any map, Americana lives in the grooves of records and in guitars, bars and cars – it lies at the intersection of country, blues and rock’n’roll (specifically rock’n’roll of the Sun Studios flavour).

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Central Coast songwriter Lianna Rose proves that you don’t have to be American to make great Americana. She proves it – almost too easily – on her new album Travellers, released this March. Over thirteen sharply penned songs, she covers rockabilly, ballads, pop-country and rock and roll. The rise and fall of the album – its sequencing following an arc from rattling double-time openers ‘Willy Wagtail’ and ‘Big Ass Town’ through to the middle set of ballads such as the title track ‘Travellers’ and ‘Pillar to Post’, heating up again for the last barrage of rockers: ‘Cowboy’ and ‘Take its Toll’ – gives Travellers a strong cohesion and makes it a vivid and cinematic journey through Rose’s own little isthmus of Americana.

Great songs, honestly rendered and beautifully played. Her voice is capable of raising the roof, Wanda Jackson style, on the rockabilly tracks yet can fall away to a blue reverie on the deeply felt ‘Travellers’. The innocently sung ‘Somebody Save Me’ could easily be a pop hit with its lush hook and perfect song craft.

That the small group of crack players on the album can cover all of these grooves and moods so adeptly is no surprise; with players such as Matt Fell and Dai Pritchard on board. Pritchard brings some of his Rose Tattoo mojo to ‘Cowboy’ and ‘Take it Toll’, his slide guitar weaving in an around Rose’s voice, summoning that hair-raising spirit that Duane Allman did so damn well. LIANNA-FRONT-COVER-TRAVELLERS-copy-Small

Unlike much of current Americana, Travellers comes from an honest and deep place. As a genre, Americana can be too often overburdened with fake authenticity and second-hand experience. Rose writes and sings from a place of experience, with all its hurts and joys, and the songs breathe with the salty (and slightly bourbon-sweet) breath of real life.

An American poet once said “I am like a country song; all my sads are real.” That could apply to Travellers but, in Lianna Rose’s case, so are all her happys.

 

Lianna Rose’s website is http://liannarose.net