Category: album review

Album review: Travelling Salesman by Brad Butcher

Brad-Butcher_Travelling-Salesman_3000px-x-3000px.jpgQueensland singer-songwriter Brad Butcher has, deservedly, been the recipient of a Golden Guitar for New Talent of the Year (even if it was for his third album) and Country Song of the Year at the Queensland Music Awards. He has a growing fan base, within the industry and amongst music lovers. He’s also been regularly reviewed on this website because from his first, self-titled album it was clear that he is an outstanding talent. Since that album he’s released Jamestown and From the Bottom of a Well, both complete works, just as the first one was – that is, they are deeply satisfying on lyrical and musical levels, and they are story collections that leave you feeling as though you’ve been told things, learnt things, experienced emotions and taken paths you didn’t otherwise know were there.

It is no surprise, therefore, that with his fourth album, Travelling Salesman, Butcher has again produced a complete work. But that doesn’t mean that his albums are simply versions of each other. On each Butcher looks out and within to find what is right for that work at that time. On each he is prepared to draw on his personal experiences and be vulnerable; on each he is also able to look at the world around him and tell stories that are of value about it.

Travelling Salesman is the work of an artist who now has perspective on the past and on the path he’s been on; as a working artist he now believes himself akin to a ‘travelling salesman’ but there is only pragmatism in the assessment. This is a travelling salesman who likes the travel, even if he’s had to get used to the selling. He also now has a sense of where he fits into the world, and what he can bring to others. Along the way he has not lost the sense of wonder, or willingness to be honest and emotional, that have been present since his first album. If anything, he’s become tighter as a storyteller – in that he has sharpened his focus – and nowhere is this more evident than on the fourth track, ‘Easy Street’.

This is a multi-generational family story in one song; it acknowledges that struggle can strengthen ties, that love is a virtue and that there is room for resentment and forgiveness within each clan. Even though it’s the fourth track, much radiates from it: the man of ‘I’m All In’ is the product of that family in ‘Easy Street’, as is the one whose beliefs shape ‘Suburban Myth’. Within that family that same man has learned to look beyond himself so he can tell the stories of others, as in ‘Freshwater Lady’. It all suggests that over the past four albums Butcher has developed his understanding of what it means to take on the responsibility of being a storyteller. On earlier albums he might have been telling stories for himself – even though they’ve always resonated with many others – but now he’s firmly looking outwards. Or, rather, radiating outwards. He knows who he is and it is from that place of surety that he steps into the world.

Partly this is, no doubt, because he’s become that travelling salesman. He is going around the country, meeting people, playing to strangers, and all the while using his talent and skills to synthesise what he sees and learns. The result is this wonderful album, the fourth in an outstanding line, but the first, perhaps, of a new direction for Butcher, not only the travelling salesman but the roving storyteller who embraces his role and understands its importance to the people who come to listen to his tales.

Travelling Salesman is out now.

Apple Music | Artist’s website | Spotify

Watch the video for ‘Nature’s Course’, the first track on Travelling Salesman, below:


Album premiere: Right Kind of Wrong by Megan Sidwell

Right+Kind+of+Wrong+Album+Cover.jpgEarlier this year Melbourne-based NZ singer-songwriter Megan Sidwell released ‘I Got You’, a single that provided a preview of her upcoming album. That album, Right Kind of Wrong, now makes its premiere here today (with general release tomorrow).

Listen to Right Kind of Wrong on Soundcloud

The seven songs on the album were written after Sidwell moved from New Zealand. Says Sidwell, ‘Over the course of these years I’ve met people who wanted me to change my sound and my look so I was an easier product to sell, and the name “Right Kind of Wrong” is about my own battles and acceptance towards my music. These songs feel right to me because they are my truth.’

Country music audiences expect authenticity from artists and it is immediately clear on this album that Sidwell is giving us her all. The songs are emotional and strong and sometimes defiant. They are more country rock than pop, and Sidwell has the voice to handle rock: it has depth and warmth, and great range, and there’s no danger of her disappearing inside the instruments. And it’s perfectly suited to a ballad like ‘The Chase’, where she is unafraid to show vulnerability inside that strength.

The album was recorded in Nashville and produced by Sam Hawksley, an artist in his own right who has worked with The Sunny Cowgirls and Adam Brand. It’s an album for those who want to be swept away by music – caught up in the sound as well as the lyrics. And it would no doubt be fantastic to hear these songs live – which you can do on the following dates (Victoria only):

Saturday 20th July – Album Launch – Grace Darling Hotel, Melbourne

Sunday 21st July – Little French Deli, Bonbeach

Friday 2nd August – Mitcham Social Club, Mitcham

Saturday 3rd August – Noojee Hotel, Noojee

Sunday 11th August – Inkerman Hotel, St Kilda East


Stream Right Kind of Wrong on Soundcloud

Find Megan on:

Apple Music | Spotify

Album review: The Maes

Maes_Website_1_AlbumCover_W310px.jpgThe Maes used to be The Mae Trio – and released two albums and an EP under that name – but the departure of founding member Anita Hillman has resulted in the duo of sisters Maggie and Elsie Rigby, their divine voices and their skills with multiple instruments: banjo and guitar for Maggie and violin and mandolin for Elsie. The Maes have now released their third album, which is self-titled and, frankly, sublime.

The album draws on various folk traditions, including those of the Maritime Provinces in Canada (as evident on track 3, ‘Head Over Heels’), which in turn are in the lineage of the Celtic music of the Scots and Irish immigrants who landed on those shores and have maintained tight-knit communities ever since. (For modern representatives of that lineage, look to Ashley MacIsaac and Madison Violet.) The Maes recorded some of this album’s tracks in Canada, some in Scotland and Ireland, and the remainder in their home town, Melbourne. The result is ten songs that become more beautiful and emotional each time you listen to them.

These are songs that are heartfelt and heart exposing and heartbreaking; they are sentimental in an open-eyed way, and often unexpected in the path their stories take. They are honest and vulnerable, and the Maes unabashedly use their voices to take us to those places. There is no point, after all, in writing lyrics that open a door to the listener if you can’t take that listener by the hand as they walk through.

The songs draw clearly draw on the sisters’ experiences but are universal in their specificity. It’s impossible to imagine that they would not be understood all over the world, and in decades’ time. Indeed, The Maes travel the world performing and no doubt they are welcomed there as warmly as they should be here.

This album is a gift, but as with all music it’s one that requires reciprocity: we have to pay attention and commit to receiving this music with the generosity that it’s been offered. That’s when we understand that is an album of riches, timeless but timely: in a bruising world, how rare to have this tenderness and understanding offered to us as a piece of art, and of craft, and in this time and place.

The Maes is available now.

Apple Music | Bandcamp | SoundcloudSpotify



Album review: Emma Beau

656cb945-568c-4a25-a2fb-76b9c3ce7596.jpgEmma Beau’s name is familiar to those who have paid attention to Australia’s country music output over the past few years. Beau is a multi-instrumentalist and singer who has  played with several other artists including Kasey Chambers. Beau has released her own music in the past, but never an album until this year.

Beau’s self-titled debut features eleven songs; one is a cover of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and the others were written by Beau. It doesn’t take long to understand why she might have waited a while to release an album: to make sure all the songs were, well, perfect. It  is sometimes said that an album is ‘all killer, no filler’. Admittedly that expression usually applies to albums from a different genre of music … but the label certainly fits here. Beau’s ten songs are as beautifully constructed and executed as you’d want on any album, but almost astonishingly so for a debut, and not astonishingly at all when you remember that Beau has been developing her skills of all types – instrumentally, vocally, as a writer – for several years and in the company of highly accomplished artists. The standard that artists like Chambers set – the standard that is set, actually, by Australian country music artists generally – challenges everyone around them to rise to meet it, and Beau has done that splendidly.

A shallow listening of Emma Beau will suggest that the album is not entirely country – that the musical style edges towards indie rock, perhaps, or sixties rock, and certainly there’s folk there too. But a closer listening reveals the country elements in all the songs Beau has written: a musical element here, a lyrical turn there. No doubt Beau has many influences to draw on but like a thread sewn throughout a quilt, she’s made sure country is there throughout.

Beau is a storyteller who is unafraid to show herself to the listener, and as a vocalist she backs that up in every single line. She has a magnificent voice and she doesn’t hide behind it – it’s a tool and it’s a flamboyance, whatever the song requires. The voice serves her, and the song, not the other way around (sometimes great singers can seem to be almost in awe of their voices, letting those voices getting away with things that in the end don’t benefit the song).

That inherent musicality may be informed by – or have informed – Beau’s ability with several instruments; only she knows. But this is an album that offers so much to those who know music as well as those who simply want to be entertained. The time Beau has taken to make this album, and the care she has shown with it – along with producer Michael Carpenter – have resulted in a gift for audiences of all types of music, and a valuable addition to the country music canon.

Emma Beau is out now.

Apple Music | Artist’s website | Spotify


Album review: Halfway Home by Morning by Matt Andersen

71ay4hcxUWL._SY355_.jpgCanadian singer-songwriter Matt Andersen has long had a voice that sounded like it belonged to someone far older, saturated in life’s experiences and prepared to share them. Since Andersen is now up to his tenth album, perhaps he and his voice are travelling in tandem – and on Halfway Home by Morning they certainly sound like a comfortably united pair.

Andersen’s sound is soul and blues and rock and Americana, and his voice handles all of those genres effortlessly, as well as being one of those voices that sounds as though it comes straight from the past, present and future. Halfway Home by Morning is 13 songs of emotion, honesty and connection, with each line made more heartfelt by the delivery of it – by Andersen and the outstanding band and backing singers who appear with him.

The album was recorded live in Nashville, and that energy gives the songs a warmth that could have been lost if each track had been recorded individually. It also seems to give it an air of celebration – not that the songs are all celebratory (Andersen does a very fine ballad), but as if you’re at an hour-long party with the best possible entertainment.

Andersen and his band are constantly on the move – no Australian dates have been announced in the near future, but should he make his way back to these shores, Halfway Home by Morning suggests it would a performance absolutely worth taking in.

Halfway Home by Morning is out now on True North Records via MGM.

Apple Music | Spotify

EP review: The Great Unknown by Jade Gibson

std_24974Singer-songwriter Jade Gibson has released her debut EP, The Great Unknown, after its title single debuted at number 1 on the Australian iTunes country charts. Gibson has a strong pedigree, with her live career starting at the age of fourteen. She has performed in pubs and B&S balls in Victoria (where she lives) and New South Wales, and in gigs as far from home as Western Australia. Both types of audiences can be very demanding –  and there would have been more tough audiences in Nashville, where she’s spent time writing and performing. They no doubt helped shape Gibson into the strong performer who appears on this EP.

Given that Gibson has now been in the industry for a few years, it must have been tempting to release recorded music earlier – but the fact she didn’t suggests that she wanted to have as much education and experience as she could, and she was prepared to be patient about it. That sort of attitude often indicates an artist who is focused on giving audiences something of quality: it’s partly about wanting to do the best they can for herself, and partly because they’re paying the audience the compliment of not wasting their time. And Gibson’s work has likely greatly benefited from her willingness to wait, because there is not a single misstep in the five songs that appear on The Great Unknown.

These are country pop/rock songs with music that marries well with Gibson’s very warm, often sweet soprano voice that sounds as if it could suit multiple genres. Of course, the McClymonts have shown that lovely vocals can marry very well with loud guitars and Gibson’s music would appeal to McClymonts fans, and also situates Gibson as a strong emerging artist. She’s currently working on a debut album, and if she picks up the strands of this EP and carries them into the album, that will make for a very strong release.

The Great Unknown is out now.

Apple Music | Spotify


EP review: Pieces of My Heart by Cassi Marie

unnamed.jpgIt has been proven true over and over again that age is irrelevant when it comes to Australian country music artists. An emerging artist can be sixteen or sixty, and with the CMAA Academy offering the Junior Academy the teenagers are just as likely to be accomplished as older artists. Queensland singer-songwriter Cassi Marie is seventeen but she’s already studied with artists such as Amber Lawrence, Lyn Bowtell and Ashleigh Dallas, and that experience shows. The four songs on her new EP, Pieces of My Heart, are country-pop gems. Cassi Marie’s voice has a lovely clean tone that enables us to hear the emotion behind and meaning of her lyrics. There is bittersweetness and poignancy on these songs that can’t be taught – it has to come from within the artist.

The EP was produced by Bill Chambers and mixed by Nash Chambers, and while it’s always good to have such heavyweights in the studio, the songs and their singer have to be good in order for the EP to shine, and this EP is a beautiful shiny introduction to this artist.

Apple Music | iTunes | Spotify