Album review: Take Me to Town

TMTTCov-700x622.jpgTake Me to Town may count as one album but it’s actually three CDs full of Australian alternative country music artists, some of whom will be familiar to readers of this blog – such as Tracy McNeil, The Weeping Willows, Lachlan Bryan, William Crighton and Jen Mize – and some who may be unknown simply because they are new.

Take Me to Town is the creation of Dave Favours from Sydney label Stanley Records, in concert with Chris Hamilton of Americana site Post to Wire, and Areatha Bryant of Mother Hen Touring. The trio decided on a list of artists and also secured some tracks that are exclusive to this release, from Ben Leece (who is about to release his debut album) and the always-compelling Katie Brianna, Sam Newton, Den Hanrahan, Peta Caswell and the increasingly prominent Michael Carpenter. Indeed, almost half the songs are exclusive to the compilation, so if you’re a country music fan who is wondering if it’s worth purchasing, that alone should convince you.

I’m fond of saying that country music is a broad umbrella and this compilation is proof that alternative country, too, deserves that description. The 47 tracks demonstrate that alt-country is flourishing around the land and pushing that genre, and Australian country music in general, into bold territory. There are elements of traditional country forms in these songs, reworked in a contemporary way or with a vocal flourish that creates something interesting. In some ways the compilation is an education about how country music is being interpreted and fashioned by new or new-is artists, and also how the work of more established artists like Lachlan Bryan and The Weeping Willows compares with songs from emerging artists. In this way the compilation also serves an almost anthropological purpose: the artists on this album are all pretty much from the same generation, yet how they approach their work is 47 ways of different.

I started to make a list of standout tracks on Take Me to Town and then realised it would be too long to be effective. There are artists on here you won’t know but, like me, that one track will encourage you to seek out their work. The songs by the artists who are already well known will reassure you that you didn’t imagine it: they really are that good. The combination establishes that this compilation is actually bigger than the sum of its 47 parts, because it manages to create excitement, encourage wonder, facilitate curiosity and bring joy all at once.

Take Me to Town is available from 28 September 2018 and only on CD.

JB Hi-Fi | Sanity

Stanley Records

Album release shows:

October 12 – The Stag & Hunter, Newcastle NSW
Featuring The Heartache State, Dan Brodie, James Thomson, Ben Leece & Left of the Dial, Jen Mize, Dave Favours and The Roadside Ashes

October 13 – Marrickville Bowling Club, Sydney NSW
Featuring Sydney cowpunks Spurs For Jesus, Melbourne’s The Heartache State & Dan Brodie, Jen Mize, Adam Young & Brielle Davis, Jen Mize, Dave Favours and The Roadside Ashes and Ben Leece

October 14 – The Brass Monkey, Cronulla NSW
Featuring The Heartache State, Dan Brodie, Jen Mize Peta Caswell and Dave Favours and The Roadside Ashes.

November 10 – The Spotted Mallard, Melbourne VIC
Featuring (Upstairs) Eaten By Dogs, Chris Pickering Experiment, Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes, The Weeping Willows, Skyscraper Stan, Adam Young & The Down Main, Dave Favours and the Roadside Ashes
(Downstairs) Bill Jackson, Katie Brianna, Ben Leece, Mitch Power)

November 30 – The Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane QLD
Featuring Halfway, The Heartache State, Hana Brenecki, Dave Favours and the Roadside Ashes

Album news: Ragtone Stomp by The Ragtone Ramblers

EP cover artwork.jpgThe website of Brisbane band The Ragtone Ramblers says that the band is ​’Playing in the pocket where country and jazz unashamedly mingle’. With influences of western swing and hillbilly, the band’s new EP, Ragtone Stomp, is a vibrant, beautifully executed, toe-tapper that features three great vocalists accompanied by steel guitar, double bass, tenor banjo and washboard.

For those who love older-style, upbeat country music that is of exactly the type to tempt you onto the dance floor, you will be hard pressed to find tunes more appealing than the six on this release. And for those who aren’t sure if they like that kind of music: just listen and try to not feel uplifted by the joy that is so clearly on this record.

Ragtone Stomp is out now.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | iTunesSpotify

www.theragtoneramblers.com

 

 

 

Single release: ‘Someone Like You’ by Melanie Horsnell & Steve Appel

unnamed (15)This is actually not a single release so much as using a single to announce an album release … as this single was released in late July. Melanie Horsnell will be well known to many fans of indie and alt-country music in Australia. Steve Appel is also known for King Curly.

Candelo-based Horsnell and Blue Mountains inhabitant Appel met only last year at the Bellingen Winter Music Festival and then shared a European tour billed as ‘Two Australian Songwriters’. Over the course of almost nightly shows for six weeks across seven countries, songs were written and developed the point that they decided to make an album together.

That album, The World Has a Gentle Soul, is now released. ‘Someone Like You’ will give you a taste of the duo’s delightful melodies and gentle, mesmerising sound.

Listen to ‘Someone Like You’ below.

 

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity

Or buy from the artist:

www.melaniehorsnell.com

 

Single release: ‘Wildfires’ by Jenny Mitchell

image002 (2).jpgIf you’re looking for an excellent start to the week, the new single from New Zealand singer-songwriter Jenny Mitchell can help you out. ‘Wildfires’ is a cracker of a song and the first single from Mitchell’s next album, to be released later this year.

Mitchell has a terrific voice, and on this song it’s married with a snappy beat and snarling guitars to match the tale of a toxic relationship. ‘Wildfires burn so easily’ she sings, and we believe her.

The gift of this level of talent and skill on a song is that the listener is immediately on the hook, as you will be as soon as you listen to ‘Wildfires’.

Mitchell is a graduate of the CMAA Academy of Country Music and melds country, folk and Americana into her own unique style. She’s a rising star in her home country – but she’s going to tour here soon. Dates below.

Listen to ‘Wildfires’ on:

Apple Music | iTunes | Spotify

Friday 26th – Sunday 28th October – Tablelands Folk Festival – Yungaburra, QLD
Wednesday 31st October – The Spotted Mallard – Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 1st November – Caravan Music Club – Melbourne, VIC
Friday 2nd – Monday 5th November: Maldon Folk Festival – Maldon, VIC
Wednesday 7th November: Ararat Live – Ararat, VIC
Thursday 8th November – Porch Light Sessions, Petersham Bowling Club – Sydney, NSW
Friday 9th November – The Acoustic Picnic – Brookvale, NSW

www.jennymitchell.co.nz

Album review: Catherine Britt & the Cold, Cold Hearts

Catherine+Britt+&+the+Cold,+Cold+Hearts.jpegNewcastle singer-songwriter Catherine Britt has been a presence in Australian country music for so long that it’s easy to forget she is still a young woman. She has released several albums, toured extensively, survived breast cancer and its treatment, bought Rhythms magazine, and recently become a mother. She has also moved to the other side of the mixing desk and become a producer – a very welcome development, given that Australian country music has many female artists but mostly male producers. Britt had the credentials to be a producer years ago – she emerged almost fully formed as artist, and her knowledge of music, especially country music, is vast – so she may become so busy producing other artists that she has little time for her own music. Which is why we should treasure her new project and album, both titled Catherine Britt & the Cold, Cold Hearts.

The album was recorded in Britt’s home studio, Beverley Hillbilly Studios, with engineer Jeff McCormack, while Britt and band members Michael Muchow and Andy Toombs produced the album, with Bill Chambers appearing on all the tracks.

Britt has often written personal songs, but not – from memory – a song cycle that is almost entirely personal, as this album is. In that way it’s an evolution from her previous album, Boneshaker, and musically it’s also a change, featuring a more stripped-back country style that suits Britt’s ‘honky tonk girl’ roots as well as the nature of the songs.

Britt has always been able to command and control emotion in her songs in a way that never feels manipulative of the listener, and that is true of several songs on this release, including ‘Too Hot to Quit’. She also does a very good haunting ballad, such as ‘The River & the Gum’. While her sound is always steeped in country music, she makes the most of the fact that there are many strands to country. Each of her albums contains a variety of song styles that always sound like Britt but which illustrate that her intelligence, experience and knowledge are such that she can call up what each song needs without giving into the temptation of doing what she’s done before.

In this Britt is reminiscent of Kasey Chambers – you could never mistake one for the other, and if they sang each other’s songs you’d be able to tell who wrote what, yet they both have an extraordinary ability to synthesise their musical history, talent and lyric abilities to create songs that come from a deeply personal place and are also universal. We don’t hear either of them being referred to as counting among ‘Australia’s greatest songwriters’ – they are not in that hallowed canon, apparently – but that’s what they are.

On this Cold, Cold Hearts record Catherine Britt proves – not that she needed to, because she has already done this, over and over – that she is an artist for the ages, accomplished, daring and strong. Let’s hope she continues to find time to write, record and produce her own music as she continues on the path of supporting other artists, leaving her mark, no doubt, on them the way she does on those who love her music.

Catherine Britt & the Cold, Cold Hearts is out now through Universal Music.

Buy the album from Catherine Britt’s website or on:

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity

www.catherinebritt.com

 

 

Interview: Graeme Connors

301019.jpgQueensland singer-songwriter Graeme Connors has a new album, from the backcountry, which is a superb addition to his extensive catalogue that includes North, and the 2016 compilation 60 Summers: The Ultimate Collection, which reached #1 on the ARIA Country Album Chart. While from the backcountry is his first album of new songs in seven years, when I spoke to him recently it became clear that he has been busy in the interim. It’s also clear that he is as articulate in an interview as he is in his lyrics: a natural storyteller who has a talent for, and has worked hard at, connecting with his audience.

 

You’ve just released your first album in seven years – how long have you been writing for it?

To be honest, I only started seriously writing in February this year, after Tamworth. There had obviously been an accumulation of ideas over that seven-year period. I’m the sort of person that jots stuff down if there’s an idea or whatever it happens to be. But I just got a bit sidetracked in that period with so many other projects. We did Kindred Spirit, which was the tribute album to other Australian songwriters. Then we did North 25 Years On, which was a remix and remaster. Then we did the double DVD Concert to Camera, which reflected the touring band and the touring that I’d been doing. And then, of course, it came round to 60 Summers [a double CD collection]. So there was almost one a year in that gap between. And I got to January this year and did Tamworth, and there were a couple of things impacting on me. I got a little bit of a negative attitude towards the way the industry had been heading, in terms of streaming and the disappearance of the CD and all that sort of stuff, and I think that coloured my thinking a bit. I grew up in a time when music was like a book on the shelf: you’d go up to it and take it out of its cover and play it, and it just seemed to me that we’d gone down a path where music only exists on the internet, and I didn’t like that idea. And I felt also too that the compensation for writers and artists – and I still do feel – is unfair considering the investment that the companies involved are putting in. I have a very strong view on that. Then I just made a decision that I’m getting back in the saddle – there’s no point being a grumpy old man. Enjoy what you do. So that’s where this album came from.

 

A big part of why I do what I do is that I’d like to help people discover music. I’m really conscious that with so much being available online, discovering people is much, much harder. I suppose I’m curating, to an extent.

You’re curating by your personal taste and I think it’s a really essential role, bearing in mind a lot of my demographic have travelled with me down the years and this whole digitisation of music is a bit of a new thing. They are always still writing, contacting me, saying, ‘I want the CD. I’ll download it as well but I want a CD so I can have that possession in my hand and listen to it whenever I want to.’

 

I think the CD takes on the form of a memento of a show. They might come and see you perform and they want to take something away with them. Whether or not you sign it, it’s that reminder that they’ve seen you.

We’ve just done the opening show for this album and tour, and the CD sales were just amazing. So it’s quite clear that the CD is definitely not a dead medium. Specifically, the people who are also interested in songwriting – they like to get the words on a piece of paper so they can read them. The digital delivery systems, I don’t believe, are providing that and they really should start thinking about it if they want to compete.

 

You mention a few places in the songs on this album, such as the Kimberley frontier – how important is landscape to you?

I think it’s pretty vital. As time has gone on my references are clearly the landscapes that I’m familiar with, and they’re primarily Australian and they’ve changed over a long period of my history. And yet there are areas I’m still discovering. ‘Kimberley Frontier’ only came about because of my friendship with Alan Pigram. We spent a week together over there, just mates hanging out. They [The Pigram Brothers] had a gig up at Derby and I travelled with them. It was just such a joyous occasion – people celebrating their music – that somehow I just had to document that, even just for myself. But obviously it is further reaching that that. It’s a song about the moment and how all these things coalesce to make it a special moment. ‘Black Mountain’ – a real place 20 kilometres or so south of Cooktown [in Queensland]. My first encounter – Don Walker and I were travelling and a few minutes prior to seeing the mountain we were both commenting on how weird we felt, like there was something odd about it. Then we rounded the corner and there’s Black Mountain. After research we found that this is a very, very strong taboo area for Indigenous cultures over many years. It alters compasses on planes and everything. Nothing grows on that mountain. There’s just these massive black boulders and there have been stories of disappearances and various other things. So the mystery of landscape comes in at that level as well. I think in some ways ‘Stay Where You Are’ is a bit about my life – that sense of really knowing a community at a depth and at a level that can only come about by being in that community for a long period of time.

 

Do you have a favourite part of Australia that you like to travel to for yourself or to play in?     

Everywhere. It seems cruel to isolate. I love the different regions. Tasmania is very different to the tropics, where I live. Out west – at the moment it’s dry as hell and we all know these things, but it’s wide open spaces, it’s starry nights, it’s the difference that I enjoy. The tropical Kakadu landscape. The richness and the variety. Australia has so much to offer in terms of images. We can never wear ourselves out exploring it – there’s always something around the next corner.

 

On the song ‘One Life’ you say, ‘Paths I could have taken are mostly overgrown’, and I wonder if there are any paths you regret not taking, musically speaking?

I have a sort of fatalistic view in many ways. When I was a kid I was into BB King, I was into The Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival. I could have focused on any of those directions. I bought the guitars and I learnt to play. However, Kris Kristofferson really spoke to me in a really different way. The beauty and simplicity of his lyrics, as opposed to musical grooves, just reached out to the young Graeme Connors. That became, by default, the path, because I ended up touring as an opening artist for him and he, in his inimitable generous spirit, produced four songs for the first album. So that pushed me down the path of country. It’s the respect for the lyric that has mean I’ve found a home in country. Same with musical theatre as well – I love Broadway. Each word is absolutely essential to the last to create this wonderful moving picture, and I treat my songwriting with the same degree of exactitude. Trying to make sure that the ambiguity, if I choose to have it in the song, is purposeful, and normally I don’t. Normally I’m trying to get this as clear as possible. So that’s the country-ness of my work.

 

You mentioning musical theatre makes sense to me – when I listened to your album I thought about how the pieces all fit together. That idea that every word serves the next, it all becomes an overall narrative.

‘The Ringer and the Princess’ is a story song that almost acts out on the stage in people’s heads, and that’s the writing I love. I don’t force myself to do it, that’s what it is. And off this album, ‘Stay Where You Are – I’ve long harboured the desire to put together a stage musical, and between about 2006 and 2010 I was collating materials to do that but couldn’t find the key for the book of the play. And ‘Stay Where You Are’ was the theme of this unwritten play that to do this day I am still hopeful a flash will come to me and this will be how it all comes together.

 

Thinking about Kris Kristofferson supporting you and being in your lineage, are there other artists you feel you have a relationship with who carry on in your lineage?

That’s a really hard question. I listen to as much as I can, in terms of the new writers. I feel a little like the next generation are too heavily processed on an international view and are abdicating their role as image keepers of our culture. Any new writer where I get a place name or anything at all I’m immediately drawn like a compass to their work, to see if there’s something I can do to enhance that or send their way. Brad Butcher is one artist that we have that language. He’s obviously more steeped in Americana than I could ever be, because that has been his reference point, but I do like the fact that there has been other imagery coming through that is uniquely Australian. I’m on the lookout all the time and I think it’s a baton that one would love to pass on, and that is a love and expression of the Australian-ness of country music without it being rinky-tink. We’re an incredible culture and we need to pass that on.

 

I think what you’re talking about is that the specific can be universal, with is a truth of storytelling, and you and Brad both understand that really well. You tell stories with a lot of detail that are not trying to be general, they’re not trying to appeal to an overseas audience, they are telling Australian stories, but in doing that they become universal.

I hope so, because Mark Twain was the master of that – I could read Life on the Mississippi but it was like me on the Pioneer River as a kid [laughs].

 

from the backcountry is out now from ABC Music.

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity

www.graemeconnors.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Single release: ‘Water on the Ground’ by Brad Cox

unnamed (14).jpgJindabyne-born singer-songwriter Brad Cox was the winner of this year’s Toyota Star Maker and his debut, self-titled album was released in May 2018. It includes the song ‘Water on the Ground’, which was written in 2015 after Cox drove through a very dry Central Queensland on the way to the Northern Territory for work. However, the song is especially relevant at the moment, as it describes the predicament facing so many farmers in Cox’s home state of New South Wales as well as other states.

If ‘Water on the Ground’ is your introduction to Cox, you’ll be impressed by his voice, his lyrics and the emotion he brings to his music. This is a heart-rending song made all the more poignant by current events.

Cox would like people to give generously to farming charities and recommends:

www.hayrunners.com
www.aussiehelpers.org.au
www.ruawarewecare.com.au

 

Listen to ‘Water on the Ground’ below.

 

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity | Spotify

www.bradcoxofficial.com