If you’ve seen singer-songwriter Luke O’Shea perform you’ll know he’s a very funny man with a good line in dry wit, and self-deprecation where appropriate. You’ll also know he’s able to balance telling funny stories with bringing heartfelt, intelligent songs to his audience. Last year he met his match in Lyn Bowtell, who is not only one of the most majestic performers in Australia, if not the world, but who manages the same balance as O’Shea. It’s therefore no surprise, or mystery, that Bowtell appears on three songs on O’Shea’s new album, There in the Ochre. What is perhaps a surprise is that with a presence as strong as Bowtell’s, the songs are firmly O’Shea’s. That’s because at this stage of his career, five albums in and with Golden Guitars behind him, O’Shea is a force – of nature, for good, however you’d like to phrase it.
There in the Ochre is described as a celebration of Australian history and stories, but it’s also a reckoning. The core of the album is ‘Happy Australia Day’, which features beloved singer-songwriter Kevin Bennett. O’Shea does not resile from the very difficult parts of our history, one of which is the date of the national day. His lyrics are as thoughtful, as always, and they’re also thought provoking. O’Shea is passionate and emotional in his song, and it’s a clue as to the range he explores on the rest of the album. O’Shea’s experience as a teacher no doubt informs how he writes a song like this, but the song is in no way heavy handed because it comes from the heart and there is fire rather than zealotry behind it. O’Shea is a voice of conscience, and of consciousness.
Fundamentally, this an album about love: for country, for people, for close relationships (‘Firewood’, ‘Last Line on Your List’, ‘Where You Go’), for life. It’s an album about difficulties, too, but love and recognition and acknowledgement are woven through these (‘Coastal Town’, ‘Open Cut’). The outstanding Ashleigh Dallas appears, in addition to Bowtell and Bennett. There’s not a song on here that hasn’t been created with love and care, and it’s something the listener can detect immediately, and even more on repeat listenings, because that love and care is there for us. O’Shea the teacher is also a great communicator, and the best compliment we can pay him is the one he pays us: offering his time and attention, so that we can all be enriched by the experience.
It’s been three years since O’Shea’s last album and he’s clearly spent that time making sure that every single track on this album is worthy of being there. While that makes for an incredibly rich listening experience, that doesn’t meant it’s always easy – O’Shea challenges the listener to examine their own presumptions and expectations about all sorts of things, not just on the scale of our nation but our small, daily interactions with each other. If that means the songs lodge themselves in your head, making you think, making you feel, that won’t be a bad thing – There in the Ochre is a wonderful companion.
Buy the album from the artist: https://lukeoshea.com/shop/there-in-the-ochre/