Posts Tagged ‘drums’

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.


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

Check Bill’s Facebook page for live launch dates  –



Two new releases by modern masters of the acoustic guitar were transmitted to my magic listening box this week. Two very different releases by two very different artists – Australian maestro Bruce Mathiske and edgy NYC star Kaki King – both bound in approach by the warm wood of the acoustic guitar.

Playing any acoustic instrument – guitar, horn, drums – sets up a resonance in the body of the player that creates a feedback loop between emotion and technique – often missing in amplified electric instruments. This loop comes closest to realising that old cliché of ‘becoming one’ with your guitar, allowing a greater range of dynamics and feeling. It just seems more ‘real’.

The trade-off is that, since every sound you make on the guitar is there to be heard, there is nowhere to hide – your technique has to be seamless and perfect. And the trade-off there is that, too often, perfect technique leads to glassy, boring performances.

In both Mathiske and King, we hear players that have come out the other side of perfection into that spiritual area usually reserved for the great jazz or classical virtuosi. Nothing is impossible for their heads, hearts and fingers, so their artistry is about cutting to the heart of the music – exploring the emotional side, the blue-black depths, the sunflower highs.

mathiskeBruce Mathiske’s new release My Life is as coolly measured and mature as Kaki King’s Glow is wild and bursting with anarchic juice. It is his seventeenth album and her sixth (not counting EPs). Mathiske’s songs are called ‘River Stories’ and ‘The Bridge’; King’s titles are as esoteric and literary as her music – ‘No True Masterpiece Will Ever Be Complete’ or ‘Skimming The Fractured Surface To A Place Of Endless Light’. Mathiske plays a masterful blend of flamenco and country fingerstyle on beautiful handmade guitars; King appears to attack anything with strings in any way her hands can get at it.

Enough of the differences, now to the similarities which I find the most interesting in such diverse artists. The first is, quite obviously, the love of the acoustic guitar: in Mathiske’s hands a rounded, pearlescent gut-string flow, as strong and as translucently lovely as a river, whereas King goes at the thing, throwing off metallic spangles of sound. There is also a similar love of rhythm – Spanish, folk jigs and reels, some gypsy-jazz, Celtic. There is My Life’s Djangoesque ‘In Rhythm’ and Glow’s Celtic shred-fest ‘King Pizel’. Both artists really get those strings dancing.

And of course there is the über-virtuosity – yes, even though these artists are beyond that as a means-in-itself, they just can’t help themselves. (Why put all those millions of hours of practice in if you can’t shred a little now and again?). A mesmerising flourish such as Mathiske’s on his gypsified Stones cover ‘Paint It, Black’ or King’s skipping guitar harmonics on ‘Holding The Severed Self’ make one really sit up and take notice. They are dazzling but also serve to stamp Mathiske and King’s authority on their respective albums.

One big difference between both works is the production: but only different, not good, not bad, and in both cases entirely apt (almost) and vernacular to the sound-world each inhabits. Bruce Mathiske’s self-production is lean and focused on the natural sounds of the guitar. Apart from some vocal and midi-strings (and one ill-advised slab of heavy cod-Floyd rock complete with howling Stratocaster on ‘The Close Call’), he has stuck to gut string guitars, some sinewy double bass from Phil Stack and Ben Edwards and percussion and conga from Calvin Welch and Paul Kirtley. And it all works beautifully.


Glow is a whole different trip. Producer D James Goodwin has wrapped King’s “guitars and things” in almost cinematic clothes on every track. The focus here is less on the guitar and more on atmosphere and mood. And, again, it all works beautifully. Opener ‘Great Round Burn’ chugs with strings from orchestral ensemble ETHEL. ‘Bowen Island’ shimmers over an ocean of violet-turquise drone. ‘Holding The Severed Self’ skips along, whistling through the graveyard of reverbed ghosts in the background.

It is gratifying to hear in Bruce Mathiske’s My Life and Kaki King’s Glow the past, present and future of virtuosic acoustic guitar music. Both have taken the instrument to areas previously unimagined and shown us all the excitement that can still be wrung from a what is pretty much a wooden box stretched with steel.

Bruce Mathiske’s webiste is

Kaki King’s website is

Published March 2013 on