Posts Tagged ‘Tapestry’

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

 

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For her latest album, Nightlight, Sydney singer, songwriter and pianist, Rachel Collis has reinvented herself.

For many years a creator and performer of music at the sharp and witty end of cabaret in a series of one-woman shows, this time round Collis has dug deeper, painting bleaker vistas of both landscape and the heart with her songs.

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And there is some serious songcraft at work here. At a time in pop-musical history when the various Song(s) of The Year are too often simple-minded earworms more suited to tipsy beach sing-a-longs than anything to do with our deeper lives, Collis’ songs are a welcome jolt – a jolt back to the time of Jim Webb, Carole King (circa Tapestry), Stephen Sondheim and Joni Mitchell.

Beautifully realised by the sympathetic yet full-blooded production of Collis and Sean Carey (Thirsty Merc), the ten songs on Nightlight range from the heart-swelling and wide-screen to the introverted and folded-inward. Collis and Carey’s musical vision never gets in the way of the songs, remaining transparent and thoughtful.

The supporting musicians equally read the songs beautifully – two tips of the hat to bassist Michael Galeazzi and drummer Michael Quigley for their sure yet light footprints over all this. Jack Wiard‘s clarinet solo deserves a mention for lighting up the faintly silly but charming ‘A Duck Named Sybil’ (yep, you can take the girl out of cabaret, but you can’t, etc…)

Yet speaking of cabaret, it is those lessons learned from Collis’ previous musical incarnation(s) that give this music so much of its drama, ease of storytelling and direct emotion connection. Lighter forms of music – music tooled for ‘entertainment’ rather than cap-A Art – have often informed the supposedly ‘higher’ levels of the form: Miles Davis transformed popular Broadway showtunes of the day for his exquisite mid-1950s jazz quintet recordings; the Beatles, especially the early 60’s tunes of Paul McCartney, drew heavily on showtunes, cabaret favourites and pop hits of previous decades for their bittersweet loveliness.collis2

The direct yet personal voice across opener ‘Tomorrow’, the smoothly strident ‘Those Words’ and closer ‘Make Room’ – a delicately held piano ballad – is reinforced by Collis’ smart piano voicings: here Top 10 cap-P Pop, there Aaron Copland autumn rustic, each track knits the piano around and behind the voice to variously luscious, bleak or colourful effect. Comparisons to early Elton John and Billy Joel are obvious – yet i was reminded more of Joni Mitchell’s piano songs, such as ‘Court and Spark’.

Nightlight‘s centrepiece is the seven and a half minute ‘Winter In Munich’ – a long-form song that rises and falls through several cycles, as Collis meditates on loss and transformation, her piano icing the edges of our window. The Kinetic String Quartet‘s strings (arranged by Collis) widen the screen, painting the bleak winter of earth and heart.

The ambition of ‘Winter In Munich’ appears to be Collis’ mission statement with Nightlight –  a banner of her maturing and growing as an artist. The ten songs here hit the mark in every way and i know we will hear more of the good stuff from her.

One does wonder though whether there is a place for songs this good anymore? In an age of fast-forward-to-the-good-bit, instantaneous gratification and throw-away downloads dripping like a tap, do pop listeners still give anything the chance to grow and unfurl, as Collis’ songs do? I do not know the answer and am betting on the side of quality over convenience, despite all indications to the contrary.

Whatever the answer, Rachel Collis’ Nightlight deserves as much of your time as it asks.

 

Rachel Collis’ website is http://rachelcollis.com

 

 

 

 

Brown, it’s all brown. Brown, orange, mustard, gold ochre. Earth tones – the album artwork is all earth tones; nostalgic, warm and earthy 1970s earth tones.

But in this case, to paraphrase another popular 1970s signifier, Brown is (definitely) BeautifulMichael Kiwanuka’s debut album, Home Again, is earthy, rich and fertile all the way through. Even its title, Home Again, has a golden-hazed loveliness about it. The 24 year old UK singer-songwriter’s voice is deep brown too – the brown of chocolate, cocoa, old wood, long-loved leather. You could climb into the gnarled arms of this album and look down on the silly-speeding world, protected by the haze of an eternal late-Autumn afternoon.

Kiwanuka was one of UK mag MOJO’s artists to watch in 2012. And while MOJO often tends to get a little hot and bothered over anything that remotely whiffs of the fragrant 70s, their taste is, in the main, pretty impeccable. It is understandable that they went for Michael Kiwanuka – this album could easily have been the singer-songwriter hit of 1971, ranked alongside Carole King’s Tapestry or Jackson Browne.

I personally hear it as in the groove of Sixto Rodriguez’s Cold Fact or Donny Hathaway before the hits – an urbane and urban (urban in the original sense, before hip-hop urban) masterpiece of soul-folk with one sandal in the street and the other in the garden. Like Rodriguez, Michael Kiwanuka’s voice seems the voice of experience, not bitter, just full and knowing. Its old-wood and sepia timbre lends each song a lot of weight, and they are heavy songs to begin with.

Opener ‘Tell Me A Tale’ is a jazz groove, but a la Astral Weeks – open and flowing, complete with brass, flutes and a gnashing tenor sax solo by Gary Plumley over the coda. Very lush, very full, none of the album seems over-produced. Producer Paul Butler has gone for a gorgeous, chart-friendly sound in the full knowledge that Kiwanuka’s songwriting and delivery will always keep the material deep and real.

From ‘Tell Me A Tale’ the album drops down a gear or two, and stays there – Home Again unfolds at its own pace, the main focus being to frame Kiwanuka’s ochre voice and deep-rooted songs – the Paul Simon-like shuffle of ‘I’m Getting Ready’, the country-blues of ‘Rest’, the lovely finger-picked title track, ‘Home Again’. 

‘Bones’ has a strangely distant sound about it – distant in both space and time – when I listened to this haunted ballroom tune I felt like I had dropped the needle on a scratchy Sam Cooke 45 unearthed from a garage sale. Quite gorgeous, topped off by the touching and humble line ‘Without you I’m just bones…’

By the time I arrived at the closing track, the minor blues ‘Worry Walks Beside Me’ I realized that Home Again – like Back to Black or even Adele’s 21 – is not a nostalgia trip; it just doesn’t seem to give two shits about the current way music is made (whatever that may be). Like those two monster albums it deserves to be a significant and enduring hit. And like poor Amy and rich sweet Adele, Michael Kiwanuka has a voice that is of the ages, unforgettable.

Published March 2012 on theorangepress.net