Robert K Champion is a Gubrun, Kokatha and Mirning man now living in Melbourne. He’s a singer-songwriter who, towards the end of 2018, released an outstanding album called 1977. This is work clearly in the country music lineage – the instruments used and the way they are played demonstrate that heritage, yet it’s really in the songwriting that Champion positions himself in the genre. These are stories told authentically, with great heart and great vulnerability. Champion is a storyteller who wants to share his tales and has developed them so that they can be heard and understood. That’s the mark of as storyteller who truly wants to connect: any artist who wants to create that connection with an audience will take their time to ensure their work can be heard and understood. While it’s fine to say ‘write from the heart’ or ‘do what you feel’, in practice storytellers need to find commonality with their audience, and that takes time, patience and care. Champion seems to have all three.
The song that is most immediately affecting is ‘Green Tears’, which sounds like it’s ripping out Champion’s heart just as it rips out the listener’s. But the album has its light to go with the dark, and there are stories of other characters, other times and other places that go into that light and dark, and the shadows in between. There are plenty of opportunities to tap your toes as well as to listen closely and think carefully.
Champion has toured nationally as a solo artist as well as with bands and in collectives. His last release was the EP, This Road is Too Long, in 2013. There’s that patience: it took him five years to release an album, and while in that time some artists might belabour their songs, his just sound ready: ready to be heard, ready to be loved.
For listeners who love more traditional country music, this album is a must, because it is so evident that Champion loves and understands country music. 1977 also offers something unique within Australian country music while also having that comfort – for those new to Champion’s work – of being in a recognisable genre. It’s only ten songs long but it feels like a much longer work – because it’s impressive, not heavy. This is an album by a serious artist who should be taken seriously, and it’s also great, fulfilling entertainment. A grand achievement.
1977 is out now.