Month: March 2018

EP review: Juliet Oliver

unnamed.jpgSouth Australian singer-songwriter Juliet Oliver first became interested in country music through Miley Cyrus’s alter ego, Hannah Montana. Oliver was 11 at the time, and at that same age her parents bought her a guitar. Over time her musical influences changed to Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt and Jason Isbell. Oliver is still only 19 years old but some of those later influences can be heard on her self-titled debut EP, released earlier this month.

Oliver has Cline’s edge mixed with Parton’s warmth, and Parton and Ronstadt’s pop melodic sensibilities. The EP contains four country-pop songs that hit the right notes melodically and lyrically. The adjective that first comes to mind is ‘sweet’, and that is not at all a pejorative – pop songs should be sweet, and with country pop it’s often the country part that gives them a little dollop of pain or regret or wistfulness to balance it out.

Oliver has struck that balance, and this is a perfect little package that introduces a very talented newcomer.

Juliet Oliver is out now.

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Album news: Call Out for the Cavalry by Andrew Swift

[As a reminder: ‘album news’ items appear when I haven’t had time to write a full review but want to make sure the album is covered.]

SDC_2356039_2018-21-2--00-15-10.jpgMelbourne singer-songwriter Andrew Swift had what might be called a conversion to country music after the release of his first album in 2015, but he’s certainly no neophyte: he’s already been a grand finalist in the Toyota Star Maker competition.

Call Out for the Cavalry is his recently released second album, and it too reveals no sign of him being relatively new to the genre. His musical lineage covers Americana, roots, rock and a bit of blues, and there’s a lovely cover of Gretta Ziller‘s song ‘Unforgiven Sin’. Ziller appears on the album, as does Catherine Britt and Katie Brianna.

This is a diverse, lovely, entertaining mix of songs. Swift sounds completely at home in country music, his voice relaxed and confident, and his ability to create songs that assuredly embrace a range of musical and lyrical moods speaks to his skill as a songwriter. The album is a great example of the alt country scene currently burgeoning in Melbourne – and it’s also just a great album.

Call Out for the Cavalry is out now through Social Family Records. 

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Single release: ‘The Campfire Song’ by Kasey Chambers & The Fireside Disciples

kaseyKasey Chambers is a national treasure – a singer-songwriter so exceptional that I reckon she should have her own theme park. In lieu of such a park, however, her fans can pay tribute by listening to her new music as soon as it’s released. So I shouldn’t be slightly late posting about her new single, ‘The Campfire Song’, but I am.

Chambers has released the song under the moniker ‘Kasey Chambers & The Fireside Disciples’. I’m going to presume that the three men in the band – Brandon Dodd, who has toured with Kasey over the last three years; Alan Pigram, a long-time family friend, fellow musician (from The Pigram Brothers) and Indigenous elder from Broome, WA; and her father, Bill Chambers – are her disciples.

Chambers’s sound has evolved with each album but it’s always true to her, and in a way that doesn’t alienate her fans. Lyrically, musically and in performance, she is one of the most exciting, compelling artists in the land. ‘The Campfire Song’ harkens to the roots of her sound yet it doesn’t sound like it could have come from an earlier album. She’s still evolving, and still exceptional.

Watch the video for ‘The Campfire Song’ on YouTube.

Pre-order the album:

Apple Music  |  iTunes  

‘The Campfire Song’ is taken from Chambers’s upcoming album, Campfire, due for release on 27 April ahead of a national tour.


Continue reading “Single release: ‘The Campfire Song’ by Kasey Chambers & The Fireside Disciples”

Interview: Grayson

image003.jpgGrayson is the stage name for Australian singer-songwriter Michael Edser – it’s a reference to his childhood street in the NSW city of Newcastle. He relocated to Nashville in 2011, which followed on from a stint in Europe where he toured with some of the biggest names in Ireland including Aslan, Bagatelle and John Spillane.  He has also performed with Aussie legends Jimmy Barnes, The Whitlams and Vanessa Amorosi (amongst others) back home in Australia. These days Grayson writes and produces music for other people, as well as himself. He recently released a new single, ‘Margarita’, and brought it to the Tamworth Country Music Festival. We spoke a few weeks after that.

‘Margarita’ invokes beaches and summer, but Nashville is a long way from a beach – where  does a Newcastle boy get his waves in Tennessee?

I feel landlocked all the time. It’s one of the worst things about living in Nashville – it’s a long way from the ocean – and when I first came to America I lived on Venice Beach [in Los Angeles] so I always felt I wasn’t too far away from home. Obviously when I moved to Nashville it was a whole different kettle of fish. We get down to Florabama once a year, which is on the border of Florida and Alabama.

Culturally it would be quite different for you. I do think Australians can get culture shock in the United States. But that Newcastle lifestyle … It’s a burgeoning city, in the last few years there’s been a lot of change there, but it is a surf town in so many ways.

Definitely. Everyone has a surfboard, everyone has a guitar. It’s a cool city. If I didn’t have to make a living I would never have left Newcastle – it’s God’s country. My dad used to tell me it had the best beaches in the world and it was a really cool place, and I just thought it was my dad being a proud Novocastrian, but honestly every time I go back it’s harder to leave.

While you were growing up in Newcastle, what did you listen to and when did you start playing?

I’ve answered this question a lot doing radio tours over the years – especially the country radio stations, they ask me what I grew up listening to, and I piss them off because I tell them that I listened to the Backstreet Boys, Googoo Dolls – everything that was on mainstream radio in Newcastle, which was three radio stations: KO FM, NEW FM and NX FM. And it’s still like that. And that’s one of the reasons why country music still isn’t as big as it is here, because if you want to be in Newcastle listening to country music, driving to the beach, you have to be streaming something – there’s no mainstream country radio station – and that’s were Australia is so limited. So I grew up with whatever was on radio, which was ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua, Backstreet Boys, because that’s all I knew – there was no internet to stream music. It was, literally, these are the biggest people in the world, this is what’s on NX FM, this is what I’m istening to.

And, of course, silverchair – one has to mention silverchair when talking to a Novocastrian.

As I got older I grew to love silverchair and what they achieved, especially in that time, was phenomenal. But when I was 15 or 16 I thought they were too heavy – I was driven to that more melodic, ballady kind of stuff. So I never was a huge silverchair fan, but as I’ve grown older I’ve fallen in love with their stuff.

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Interview: Gord Bamford

a40978211_s400Canadian country music star Gord Bamford was last in Australia when he joined the Wolfe Brothers’ This Crazy Life tour in 2016. It certainly wasn’t his first time here: Bamford was born in Australia and lived here until he was five. But that visit saw his fan base here start to grow, and he’s now back in the country for a few dates after playing at the CMC Rocks festival. I spoke with him not long before he departed cold Canadian shores for our summer heat.

How’s Edmonton?

It’s pretty good. I’m actually in British Columbia right now – we’re wrapping up our Canadian tour. We’ve got two shows tonight and tomorrow then we’re done. We had 29 shows in 35 days so we’re looking forward to it coming an end, then a little time off and we’re over to Aussie, so we’re looking forward to that.

Thinking of the name of your single, ‘Livin’ on Summertime’, are you coming here to escape the end of the Canadian winter?

[laughs] I’ll be honest with you, I’m looking forward to that. It’s been quite a winter here. We’ve had a pile of snow in Alberta, where I live. It’s been cold. So it will be a nice change.

Are there any logistical issues, touring Canada in the winter? I would imagine sometimes now causes flights to be cancelled and things like that.

For sure – we’ve had a few issues with our bus because it gets so cold and it freezes up. But, knock on wood, we’ve been pretty lucky on this tour and we’ve been coast to coast. It gets a little bit dicey up in the mountains during the wintertime, that’s for sure.

Do you find that audiences change as you go across the country? In the Maritimes there’s a strong Celtic music influence and every second person seems to have a fiddle but as you go westwards is there a more natural audience for country music?

You’ve obviously done your research – that’s kind of how it is. But I’ve got a fiddle player in the band – I’m one of the rare [performers] in country music these days to carry a fiddle. My fan base is pretty passionate – it’s been growing here in Canada for 20 years. This has been our best tour ever. All the shows have sold out. There definitely is a difference in how the audience reacts as you come from the east coast back to the west. But it’s good.

You mentioned growing that audience – country music in Canada obviously doesn’t have the prominence that it has in the United States, but when I was there in the mid 1990s I don’t remember much country music being around at all, and I went to see a lot of bands. So it seems like it is relatively new to come to prominence.

Yes. America’s a different beast on its own. It’s tough down there. We’ve got such an opportunity. Being from Canada and having markets like Canada and Australia gives a better opportunity than anything. You can build yourself a career. There’s not as much politics involved. I’m more excited to get into the Australian market than any place, outside of where we’re playing now. We play in Europe a bit. Obviously being born in Australia and my dad being there, and some of my family’s still there, it’s been pretty great to reconnect with them. It’s been a bonus to be able to play music there. It’s really starting to build for me – I can feel that the Aussie fans are liking my stuff and I want to make sure I dedicate as much time to being there and building that market as I did Canada. It’s exciting for us. This is the first time the whole band’s come over; it will be a change for everybody to see that whole show. I’ve appreciated everything the Wolfe Brothers have done for me – I’ve been able to play with them and it’s been great – but there’s going to be a big difference when everybody sees our full show and our band. My band and crew have been with me, most of them, for ten years. It’s pretty comfortable up there and it’s going to be fun.

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Single release: ‘Simple Life’ by Scarlet’s Way

DB1_7856 600pxFrom Perth country-soul band Scarlet’s Way 2017 EP, Open Road, and in the wake of successful appearances at the Tamworth Country Music Festival and nominations for Emerging Artist and People’s Choice awards at the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival, comes ‘Simple Life’, a song that’s full of lovely musical highlights and lead singer Katey Gabel’s rich voice. Other members of the band have extensive experience in Perth’s live music and that background shows in the performance of the song, with lovely use of steel guitar and fiddle.

Watch ‘Simple Life’ on YouTube.

Open Road is available now.

Apple Music | iTunes | Amazon

Album review: Piece of Me by Missy Lancaster

missylancasterWhen I interviewed Missy Lancaster last year it was clear she was a young artist focused on her craft and passionate about music. While her past had been difficult, she was looking ahead to the release of her album. Now Piece of Me is out and it’s clear why she was excited – the ten songs on this album balance light and dark, and deliver very satisfying, memorable country pop.

Lancaster is great at the uptempo, upbeat songs but it’s on the more melancholic tracks that her emotional and vocal ranges shine. In some hands the poignant and wistful ‘When I Grow Up’ might sound turgid, as with a different interpretation the lyrics could turn into a complaint. In Lancaster’s hands the song is occasionally mournful and not in the way of a newly grown-up adult lamenting that life isn’t turning out as she’d been promised. There is pain here – the pain of leaving behind what is safe even if it’s not wonderful, and fear of what is unknown even if it could be great. It’s the most irresistible song on the album, closely followed by the first single, ‘Forget’, which is a song about lost love which also has nuances in tone that give the lyrics a different weight. Another standout track, ‘Never in Love’, is heavy with resignation and regret, but not blame.

Pop music has, of course, always contained more than catchiness – those of us (still) devoted to ABBA will argue forever about how meaningful their songs are, although if pressed as to why we’d have to admit that the meaning has more to do with how the songs are sung than the lyrics. By virtue of sitting within country music, country pop is probably expected to deliver more to its audience than straight-up pop music. It should have stories, for one thing, even if stories aren’t pop music’s stock in trade as much as feelings are. In Lancaster’s case the stories are in her voice. She doesn’t push out feeling so that the audience can recognise that there’s something going on. The feeling is genuine, and she not only gives into it but has mastered it. On one level of listening, Piece of Me is doing its pop music job – perhaps forgettable, as a lot of pop music can be, but that’s okay because its job is to entertain. On another level, though, it’s clear Lancaster is already a sophisticated singer and artist who can get inside a song and ascertain exactly what it needs to both entertain and mean something to its audience – and that, in sum, is probably the definition of what country pop should be.

Piece of Me is out now through Sony Music.

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Single release: ‘Follow Through’ by Alexandra Gunn

unnamed (5).jpgAlexandra Gunn is a Brisbane singer-songwriter who has previously released music in a different style under her first name alone. She’s now moved into country music and the result is the immediately appealing ‘Follow Through’, a country rock/pop song that announces that Gunn is a performer with energy and a little bit of cheek too. It’s a love song that’s not really about love so much as the end of the line: someone needs to get it together … or get out.

Gunn’s life in music started early: her father has been playing in bands for years (and he appears in the clip for the single, on guitar). And although Gunn has only just arrived in country music, she seems to have embraced it wholeheartedly.

Watch ‘Follow Through’ below:

Apple Music | iTunes

Interview: Lachlan Bryan

238629-L-LOSince I saw Lachlan Bryan play for the first time, several years ago in Tamworth, and then listened to his solo album Shadow of the Gun, I’ve been a fan. Bryan has a way with words, and a way with music, and he combines the two to tremendous effect. The latest release from him and The Wildes, Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music, provides more evidence of that effect, and I was very pleased to have an opportunity to talk to Lachlan about the album.

It’s release day and it’s a fantastic album – but how are you feeling? Are you relieved it’s out? Nervous about people’s reactions? Are you excited?

I see people posting about their release days, because I’m Facebook friends with other musicians, and I know everyone tries to make it look exciting, but I think it’s more nerve-wracking than exciting. It’s not so much that I’m nervous about people’s reactions – we really love this record. We feel very close to it – so obviously people’s reactions are important – but it’s more that, I guess, the goalposts keep changing when you release music. Once upon a time people probably wanted millions of record sales, and then at other times people wanted reviews and things, and everything has changed. There’s not really many music magazines now and newspapers don’t run stories about music very often. So it’s almost as though release day isn’t as important – it’s when we go out and start playing shows and actually playing songs to people and giving them a chance to take it home with them. That’s probably what I look forward to more than actual release day.

Do you think there’s now a more direct relationship with your audience because there aren’t those gatekeepers – well, they’re gatekeepers in a way – but especially with the genre you’re in, do you feel like that connection is stronger with the listener?

Yes, I do. I think the relationship with the audience is more important than ever. And I have to admit that for me the best way to have that has always been live performance, and maybe even more than ever now. I’m not the best at getting on Facebook and thanking everybody all the time, and being nice and friendly. I try and do those kinds of things but it doesn’t come naturally to me. But it does come naturally to me to get up on stage and play the songs. So the two aspects of music that I love are playing, and writing and recording are one process for us these days. All the other stuff is weird. But I do love the close connection with the audience. I do feel it more at live shows than I do during social media experiences. And I remember when we first put out albums, we’d worry about reviews coming in and all that sort of stuff – ‘What’s this writer or that writer going to say about us’ – and it’s a real shame in a way that a lot of those writers don’t have their jobs at the Sydney Morning Herald or wherever any more. So while I do love the close relationship with the public, I do lament the lack of gatekeepers in some ways as well.

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Single release: ‘Dark Sunglasses’ by Kristy James

unnamed (4)Ahead of the release of her new EP later this year, Newcastle singer-songwriter Kristy James has put out a new single, ‘Dark Sunglasses’. It’s a driving country-rock tune about bad behaviour and its consequences.

James’s first EP achieved a #2 spot on the iTunes chart and had a further two iTunes #2 Singles. In 2016 she was named a Top 5 finalist in the Musicoz Australian Independent Music country section and in the same year won the 2016 Australian Songwriters Association Awards. That same year she was also awarded the PPCA (Phonographic Performance Company Of Australia) Best Live Performance Award.

In 2017, Kristy yet again won the Country section of the 2017 Australian Songwriters Association Awards with her original song ‘Take Me Down’, and followed that by once more winning the 2017 PPCA Best Live Performance Award.

James’s pedigree is evident in ‘Dark Sunglasses’, which tells a compelling story in a tight time frame and it is delivered with assurance and command. I’m looking forward to finding out what’s on the rest of the EP.

Watch ‘Dark Sunglasses’ below:

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