Posts Tagged ‘James Joyce’

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.

Upwey2

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

 

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Conceptual art divides people as fiercely and clearly as it divided the Old from the New early in the 20th Century. Art that can be an idea, or a mere instruction or a thought – often independent of a material resolution or form – is anathema to many.

And all too often, conceptual art is itself to blame. By creating impenetrable layers of obscure meaning or by expressing an ultra-personal iconography (as in the work of Joseph Beuys) it can lose people, who can see it as coldly intellectual, its poetry alien.

The work of Japanese-American artist Yoko Ono is different. Although highly conceptual and loaded with many layers of meaning, Ono’s art has always carried a very human message. Almost everything she creates can be immediately felt on some flesh-and-blood level, which can be a doorway to the deeper storeys of stories within. Ono’s work is outwardly simple, but it is as loaded as a bear-trap.

Yoko Ono, Cut Piece,1965

War Is Over (If You Want It) Yoko Ono recently opened at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. It gives us a unique and wide-ranging look into Ono’s world (and through it, our own). The title comes from massive billboard posters that Ono and her husband, Beatle John Lennon placed across the world’s cities in Christmas 1969 as a message and gesture of peace.

Peace is a theme deeply associated with John and Yoko and many of Ono’s pieces express a yearning for peace, both on universal and personal levels. Her ‘Play It By Trust’ (1966) is a chess set where all the pieces are white as are their squares. As the players play, they lose track of which pieces are theirs and which are those of their opponent, and soon the idea of ‘sides’ is blurred – we realise, just as fraternising trench troops during World War I realised, we are really all the same. The simplicity, the whiteness, the life-affirmation of this piece are pure Ono – her emotional palette as well as her colour palette is white, water, clouds, dreams, love, peace. Blurred edges of personality that connect us all in a universality.

This universality of humanity is equally expressed in her 2006 piece ‘We’re All Water’, a row of identical bottles containing identical amounts of water, but all with a name attached – Groucho Marx, John Coltrane, James Joyce, John Lennon – different names, identical containers and contents. A simple idea but one which grows many thoughts, like branches, upon reflection.Yoko Ono, We're All Water 2008

But it is not all sweetness, love and light. Ono’s meditations on sexual politics – especially as they relate to women – can be disturbing in their power. Footage of her famous ‘Cut Piece’ from 1964 – where audience members are invited to cut away the clothes of a passive, kneeling Ono with sharp scissors – is shown on a wall here, adjacent to a more recent performance from 2003, where the piece is carried our on the artist, now 70 years old. Aside from the power of the obvious sexual and political connotations here, it is remarkable that the piece takes on even greater depth and raises new questions when ‘Cut Piece’ is now applied to the artist as an elderly woman.

‘Touch Me III’ from 2008 is a series of boxes, each containing a silicone replica of an erogenous part of a female body – lips, breasts, pubis. We are asked to wet our fingers in a bowl of water and touch the flesh-like silicone. The sense of violence here is inescapable, even though all is dark and still. When ‘Touch Me III’ was first shown in New York, the silicone was left with so many cuts and gouges by visitors that the gallery decided to remove it. Ono declined the idea, leaving the damaged ‘flesh’ in view of all.

Ono has created a specific artwork for Sydney – ‘Wish Tree for Sydney’ – six lemon-scented eucalypts on the Sculpture Terrace with materials to write and attach their dreams and wishes to the tree. Inspired by Shinto temple trees of Ono’s childhood in Japan, these Wish Trees (the first was made in1998) are a simple, heartfelt emblem of positive human aspiration.

And it is this desire for a better world, a better future, that runs through all of this work. Ono lived through the nuclear devastation of Japan during WWII; she has starved and known the dreadful suffering of the vanquished side. So this yearning for peace is not an abstract tissue of lip-service, as it is in too many artists, but her gift to us and her gift to the future.

 

Published November 2013 on megaphoneoz.com