Album review: Fallow by Fanny Lumsden

Fanny Lumsden_Fallow 3000pxFanny Lumsden’s first two albums, Small Town Big Shot and Real Class Act, were quite different albums but could be said, in some ways, to be a matching pair. They partly explored aspects of small town life, with its tensions and status anxiety more exposed than in cities, as well as the details of connection and wonder that easy proximity to loved ones allows. Both albums also offer a lot on first listening and become more interesting and unforgettable the more you listen to them (to the point that it’s possible to miss things when you’re reviewing them soon after release). Lumsden is a careful wordsmith – which is not to say her work is laboured, rather that she is precise, and like any great writing you often find more in it after considering it carefully. Musically Lumsden is capable of uplifting entertainment – like ‘Totem Tennis’ and ‘Pretty Little Fools’ – and she’s also not afraid of being sparse and quiet, as on songs like ‘Here to Hear’.

The reason why it’s important to consider her previous work when arriving at her third album, Fallow, is because Lumsden is building a canon. The first two albums are finely balanced. They are not collections of songs: they are story arcs. Just as there is an arc within each, we can also discern the broader arc of her work. There’s no end point for it yet, of course, but when Fallow is placed in the context of Small Town Big Shot and Real Class Act it’s even more clear exactly how brilliant Lumsden is. It’s not necessary to listen to the first two albums in order to appreciate Fallow, but when an album is as good as this is, why wouldn’t you want to hear more from the same artist?

Fallow continues some of Lumsden’s themes from the first two albums, as well as the musical and tonal balance. There is the strong sense of place that is characteristic of her work, although on this album it’s not a country town but mountain country. The album opens and closes with ‘Mountain Song’. It’s a stunning, powerful, irresistible calling in of the listener. The bedrock of the album is then established in the second track, ‘This Too Shall Pass’, specifically in the lines ‘Some of this is magic/and some of this is pain’.

In particular Fallow picks up the thread of ‘Bravest of Hearts’, ‘I Choose You’, ‘Big Ol’ Dry’, ‘Perfect Mess’ and ‘Big Ol’ Dry’ from the earlier albums. These are songs about the deep love that comes not just from connection and closeness but respect and appreciation. Observing those we love as they work and strive, as they face challenges and overcome – or, perhaps, succumb – causes the heart to expand exponentially. What was clear on those earlier albums is even more evident on Fallow: Lumsden’s heart is as big as the universe.

Many of the songs on this album pay tribute to those Lumsden loves, and because she is specific in the details she allows us to find those we love in the songs, even if they’re not around any more and we wonder, as she sings on track 4, where all the grown-ups have gone, or if we still go to call them when they’re in a different plane of existence now, as in ‘Wishing’, where Lumsden sings from the point of view of her husband and collaborator, Dan Stanley Freeman, whose mother died in 2018.

One significant aspect of the album is also that Lumsden shows love and respect towards herself. She might pee in the pool (track 3) but that’s just one of the many facets of her, and by calling them out with affection instead of disdain she is telling her listeners that they’re okay too. We all do dumb stuff, we’re not perfect, but it’s fine. Sometimes the message that matters the most isn’t that we matter most – it’s that we’re fine. That if today is good, not great, that’s all right. We haven’t failed if we don’t make every day perfect.

In her perfect imperfections, Lumsden takes everyone into that heart of hers and, in Fallow, provides the balm that is just right for these times.

Fallow is out now through Red Dirt Road Records/Cooking Vinyl Australia.

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