Posts Tagged ‘violin’

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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Scratched onto the back of the envelope containing my review copy of Corrina Steel’s new album Borrowed Tunes in the publicist’s handwriting was the phrase “This is the coolest country album you will hear for a while.”

Maybe a little apprehensive that I was not a country fan per se, maybe just moved to add her opinion (she is that cooler sort of PR that actually has passion for music beyond press-friendly platitudes and bums-on-seats), the phrase was so prescient that I almost used it – short and sweet – as my full review for Borrowed Tunes.

But being a lover of words – and quite taken with this beautiful record – I have a few more to say about it.

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Firstly, despite being named by her parents after the Merle Haggard song, Corrina Steel is not a country artist, nor is this a country album. Or if she is and it is, it is Country after Punk, after Classic FM rock, after The Fall.

Hell, it even has an Iggy Pop tune on it ( a duskily plaintive ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’) and was conceived into being by jamming Rod Stewart‘s pretty dire 1977 hit ‘Hot Legs’ at a party (a song that  didn’t make the final cut of Borrowed Tunes – even though I would have loved to hear what Steel and simpatico guitarist/accompanist Mike Anderson would have done with it).

As you may have guessed Borrowed Tunes is an album of Steel and Anderson’s take on a range of covers. A wide range, lasso’ing in punk, pop, Primal Scream (‘Damaged’) and – yes – Country. Steel says of the project “Our only rule was that there are no rules. Nothing was too corny, nothing was too cool… “

The inclusion of show-biz kid Peter Allen‘s sappy ‘Tenterfield Saddler’ – usually performed by a weepy, spangled Allen in front of a phalanx of Vegas showlgirls – proves how wide the lasso was cast. And yet, the spare and lovely arrangement brings out the true sweetness of what is – on this new listening – a touching and true song of affection and love.corrina steel01

This is true of every borrowed tune on Borrowed Tunes – the perfectly weighted accompaniments (often only Anderson’s acoustic and Steel’s voice, with maybe a sprinkle of mandolin, violin or Rhodes) really let the song do the talking. And this is where the ‘Country’ approach – possibly the most song-oriented music we have – works seamlessly and beautifully across every track.

Monkee Mike Nesmith‘s pop-country gem ‘Different Drum’ loses a lot of its hit parade gloss under this new sparse arrangement – wrapping possibly one of Pop’s most wry lines “We’ll both live a lot longer, if you live without me” in a folky groove. Jim Webb‘s aching “Wichita Lineman” – possibly the single loveliest song I have ever heard – is given possibly the single loveliest  interpretation I can imagine.

A note here on Corrina Steel’s voice. There is a moment in one of the long, yearning notes in ‘…Lineman’s chorus where she breaks the long, beautifully held and controlled note with the slightest burr. It is a small thing, technically perfect yet emotionally devastating, and the mark of a truly remarkable vocalist. Yes, Country is the music of songs, but it is also the music of singers – George Jones et al – great singers.

Steel has been too often compared with Lucinda Williams but I can’t agree – Williams, though a singer of great depth, doesn’t ever really seem to utterly bare her soul, as Steel does with that little ‘…Lineman’ burr. The Sydney Morning Herald said that Steel’s voice has “the kind of force that knocks down flimsy buildings and men…”The Age agreed, hearing it as “dripping with sass, attitude and raw emotion”. I don’t – I usually run a mile from the blowsy, maneater, blues-mama types – and Corrina Steel’s depth and heart draws me in from note one. It is the restraint and tiny emotional increments that are irresistible.

And it doesn’t hurt of course that she – and Mike Anderson and Borrowed Tunes –  is so damn cool! Or, as someone smarter and waaaaay less wordy than me, said: “This is the coolest country album you will hear for a while.”

 

Published October 2013 on theorangepress.net