Category: album review

Album review: All the While by Little Georgia

unnamed (5)Little Georgia is an Australian duo comprised of Justin Carter and Ashleigh Mannix, and their sound comprises elements of folk, rock and some country. In searching for the right adjectives to describe their new album, All the While, the one that keeps coming up is ‘addictive’. ‘Hypnotic’ is also applicable, and not because the sound loops around but because there’s a beat and drive behind it that is both compelling and soothing.

Great music always requires a degree of alchemy – with eight notes in an octave, there has to be something indefinable that makes one song, one sound, different to another. In the case of Little Georgia, the alchemy is in the combination of Mannix and Carter. While singing alone they are perfectly find and dandy – more than that, even – but together there is magic. They’ve spent three years on the road, playing together around the world, so it’s likely not magic but solid work that has resulted in the ten wonderful songs on this album. It’s too easily, actually, to say that artists are ‘talented’ and ascribe their achievements to that – every time there is a production of high quality, it’s talent that’s brought them to a certain point but it’s always the work that takes them most of the way.

All the While also benefits from the familiarity that is clearly between the two members of the band. Mannix and Carter know each other’s musical nooks and crannies well, which means they can push and pull the other into interesting and curious musical places. It makes for nicely complex songs with rich texture, plenty of emotion and lots of great detail. That’s what makes them addictive: with each listening there’s always the sense that there’s more to find, so you’ll return, and find more, and know there’s still more. What a lovely gift to offer listeners, and what a great foundation for, ideally, more recorded music to come.

All the While is out now.

Apple Music | iTunes | Spotify

littlegeorgiamusic.com

Album review: No Wonder the World is Exhausted by Ben Leece

unnamed-5.jpgWhen ‘Villains’, the first single from this album was released, I was quick to cover it because it was outstanding song. While singles aren’t always representative of albums, they can certainly whet the appetite, as they did in this case, given Leece’s skill and subtlety as a singer and songwriter.

No Wonder the World is Exhausted certainly lives up to the promise of ‘Villains’ and also declares that Leece is an artist who should be in the conversation, in country music terms, with the Troy Cassar-Daley/Don Walker songwriting combination, Shane Nicholson (the album’s producer) and Fanny Lumsden, who is one of the most versatile artists working today. He also fits neatly alongside Brad Butcher, whose musical style is quite different, although both artists are adept at crisp articulation of heavy emotions and experiences. But those are comparisons, not necessarily influences – although one might imagine that Nicholson has left an imprint.

Only Leece can know what his musical lineage is but there is one element that stands out quite clearly, at least to these ears, and that is Australian Crawl. Leece has a certain vocal similarity to James Reyne, albeit he’s easier to understand … as Reyne has become with time. But that’s not the main reason: rather, it’s that Leece’s album creates a portrait of Australian life that is the same swirl of ups, downs, quietude and activity, with a sense of place and character, that Australian Crawl were so good at producing. This is not to say that No Wonder the World is Exhausted sounds like an Australian Crawl album, because it does not. But it puts Leece in that particular, strong lineage of Australian storytelling in song.

At the same time, Leece is his own man. He has a distinctive, almost mesmerising singing style, and if ‘Villains’ was indicative of the quality of work on the album, it was not of the musical styles, which range through rock and several shades of country. At the core of each song is the story Leece is telling. There could be a song that is just Leece and a guitar, like the album’s closing track, ‘Stuck to My Guns’, yet there are many layers to it. That’s usually the sign that a song has taken a while to come to maturity, either because the songwriter has been carrying it around for a while before recording it or because they’ve refined it over time. It’s had time to find out what it is, and that sense of ripeness, for lack of a better word, offers the listener something deeply satisfying.

In short: ‘Villains’ wasn’t a one-off, Leece has produced an extraordinary album, and if you take your music seriously, you’ll take him seriously.

 

No Wonder the World is Exhaused is out now through Stanley Records.

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity

benleece.net

 

 

Album review: Boom Town by Steel City Sue

a4256143155_10.jpgSteel City Sue is a singer-songwriter from Newcastle, NSW, whose debut album, Boom Town, was recorded with Truckstop Honeymoon in Lawrence, Kansas. Sue is a fiddle player, and that traditional instrument of country music is an integral part of this album, which has already received accolades, with the title track winning the Karl Broadie Award for Best Song in the Australian Roots Music Awards and the album nominated for ARMA Best Album.

Sue writes songs about the place she lives in (‘From the Valley’ and ‘Coal Town’) and places she hasn’t yet been (‘Red Dirt Track’). Her lyrics are evocative of places, people and experiences; they are individual stories which, taken together, form a world view. These are songs of daily life and small challenges, as well as bigger changes such as the industrial changes in Newcastle. The lyrics are often personal yet delivered with some restraint – which is not a criticism, as it suggests a courteousness to the listener. The honesty and authenticity are there. But between any songwriter who has themselves as a subject and the listener on the other side there is a getting-to-know-you dance; therefore, on a first album some restraint is fitting.

The songs range through musical styles that all fit within the country umbrella, verging towards rock in some cases and pop in others. There are different moods, too, and all expressed by Sue’s compelling voice, which is sweet and sharp and knowing by turns.

Many Australian country music artists are interested in telling audiences about authentic experiences, and part of the beauty of the genre is how many different ways there are to do that, from Slim Dusty and Joy McKean to Troy Cassar-Daley, Beccy Cole, Lachlan Bryan, Sara Storer and Catherine Britt. Steel City Sue fits into the pantheon of very fine singer-songwriters in this country while offering something new and different: her stories told her way.

Boom Town is out now. Order the CD or download from:

steelcitysue.bandcamp.com

Album review: Take Me to Town

TMTTCov-700x622.jpgTake Me to Town may count as one album but it’s actually three CDs full of Australian alternative country music artists, some of whom will be familiar to readers of this blog – such as Tracy McNeil, The Weeping Willows, Lachlan Bryan, William Crighton and Jen Mize – and some who may be unknown simply because they are new.

Take Me to Town is the creation of Dave Favours from Sydney label Stanley Records, in concert with Chris Hamilton of Americana site Post to Wire, and Areatha Bryant of Mother Hen Touring. The trio decided on a list of artists and also secured some tracks that are exclusive to this release, from Ben Leece (who is about to release his debut album) and the always-compelling Katie Brianna, Sam Newton, Den Hanrahan, Peta Caswell and the increasingly prominent Michael Carpenter. Indeed, almost half the songs are exclusive to the compilation, so if you’re a country music fan who is wondering if it’s worth purchasing, that alone should convince you.

I’m fond of saying that country music is a broad umbrella and this compilation is proof that alternative country, too, deserves that description. The 47 tracks demonstrate that alt-country is flourishing around the land and pushing that genre, and Australian country music in general, into bold territory. There are elements of traditional country forms in these songs, reworked in a contemporary way or with a vocal flourish that creates something interesting. In some ways the compilation is an education about how country music is being interpreted and fashioned by new or new-is artists, and also how the work of more established artists like Lachlan Bryan and The Weeping Willows compares with songs from emerging artists. In this way the compilation also serves an almost anthropological purpose: the artists on this album are all pretty much from the same generation, yet how they approach their work is 47 ways of different.

Continue reading “Album review: Take Me to Town”

Album review: Catherine Britt & the Cold, Cold Hearts

Catherine+Britt+&+the+Cold,+Cold+Hearts.jpegNewcastle singer-songwriter Catherine Britt has been a presence in Australian country music for so long that it’s easy to forget she is still a young woman. She has released several albums, toured extensively, survived breast cancer and its treatment, bought Rhythms magazine, and recently become a mother. She has also moved to the other side of the mixing desk and become a producer – a very welcome development, given that Australian country music has many female artists but mostly male producers. Britt had the credentials to be a producer years ago – she emerged almost fully formed as artist, and her knowledge of music, especially country music, is vast – so she may become so busy producing other artists that she has little time for her own music. Which is why we should treasure her new project and album, both titled Catherine Britt & the Cold, Cold Hearts.

The album was recorded in Britt’s home studio, Beverley Hillbilly Studios, with engineer Jeff McCormack, while Britt and band members Michael Muchow and Andy Toombs produced the album, with Bill Chambers appearing on all the tracks.

Britt has often written personal songs, but not – from memory – a song cycle that is almost entirely personal, as this album is. In that way it’s an evolution from her previous album, Boneshaker, and musically it’s also a change, featuring a more stripped-back country style that suits Britt’s ‘honky tonk girl’ roots as well as the nature of the songs.

Britt has always been able to command and control emotion in her songs in a way that never feels manipulative of the listener, and that is true of several songs on this release, including ‘Too Hot to Quit’. She also does a very good haunting ballad, such as ‘The River & the Gum’. While her sound is always steeped in country music, she makes the most of the fact that there are many strands to country. Each of her albums contains a variety of song styles that always sound like Britt but which illustrate that her intelligence, experience and knowledge are such that she can call up what each song needs without giving into the temptation of doing what she’s done before.

In this Britt is reminiscent of Kasey Chambers – you could never mistake one for the other, and if they sang each other’s songs you’d be able to tell who wrote what, yet they both have an extraordinary ability to synthesise their musical history, talent and lyric abilities to create songs that come from a deeply personal place and are also universal. We don’t hear either of them being referred to as counting among ‘Australia’s greatest songwriters’ – they are not in that hallowed canon, apparently – but that’s what they are.

On this Cold, Cold Hearts record Catherine Britt proves – not that she needed to, because she has already done this, over and over – that she is an artist for the ages, accomplished, daring and strong. Let’s hope she continues to find time to write, record and produce her own music as she continues on the path of supporting other artists, leaving her mark, no doubt, on them the way she does on those who love her music.

Catherine Britt & the Cold, Cold Hearts is out now through Universal Music.

Buy the album from Catherine Britt’s website or on:

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity

www.catherinebritt.com

 

 

Album review: Sunday Morning Cinema by Dan Parsons

DanParsons_SMC CoverWEB.jpgCountry music is, more than most other genres, the music of evocation. Songwriters conjure emotions of relationships and situations, sometimes long past; they describe worlds and places. It’s then up to the singer to call on their own experiences to bring out nuances that even the songwriter may not have been aware of, even if they are that songwriter. Sometimes the singer sounds like they’re calling the faithful to worship, and anyone who has fallen under music’s spell knows that transcendent feeling of listening to a song that feels spiritual in nature because those elements of writing and performance create something that connects so deeply to you.

It is no surprise that Queensland-born singer-songwriter Dan Parsons has created an album’s worth of such songs on his new album, Sunday Morning Cinema: it’s his fourth long player and it sounds like the work of someone who has developed a great interest in connecting with his listeners – and that requires honing your songs so that their meaning is always clear, and performing in a way that brings them fully to life.

Parsons has a great baritone voice that recalls James Taylor at his best, and the style of the songs does suggest that era of American songwriting (no bad thing) as well as some laidback West Coast country rock. The songs are so well written that nothing should get in their way, and accordingly the production on Sunday Morning Cinema is sparse without being spare. Steel guitar is given a prominent role (as it should be) but never competes with Parson’s voice, which brings us the many colours and shades in these songs.

Parsons is clearly a storyteller and he has created an album that delivers nine stories, all with their beginnings, middles and ends. This is an album for those who like their music intelligent and thoughtfully made; you can listen to this album over and over and it will always bring you something new each time. You can also simply close your eyes and let Parsons’s baritone call you closer, getting nearer to the centre of his story with each note.
Sunday Morning Cinema is out now.

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity

The album launch show will be at Northcote Social Club in Melbourne on 2 September. Tickets here.

www.danparsonsmusic.com

Album review: Back to Broken Hill by Libby O’Donovan

libbyThose who have seen South Australian artist Libby O’Donovan perform live know that they’ve been in the presence of something special. O’Donovan has one of the great voices: rich and versatile, springing from a well of willingness to connect with audiences and an obvious and effervescent love of entertaining.

Some of those audiences will have been introduced to O’Donovan – as I was – when she’s performed with her partner, Australian country music star Beccy Cole. Prior to this O’Donovan was not a country music artist, but that has changed with her new album, Back to Broken Hill. Not that this is a country album, but there are certainly country elements on it. That is evident right from the first, and title, track, which is about O’Donovan’s upbringing in Broken Hill and written by Cole. It is an exceptionally good song – Cole’s renowned storytelling ability mixed with O’Donovan’s incredible delivery – and it’s not the only one on the album.

Back to Broken Hill ranges across musical styles that encompass O’Donovan’s lineage, which includes jazz and cabaret; what’s constant is her voice, of course, and her heart. This is a collection of songs for people who want to engage fully in music, who are prepared to pay attention to lyrics, knowing they’ll be rewarded with a great story and songs that will keep them going for a long time to come. It’s for those who are not afraid to shed a tear knowing that they’re in safe hands with an artist who is being honest with them, whether the story is hers (‘From This Mother to My Mother’) or someone else’s (such as in the touching ‘Songs Remember Me’, which O’Donovan has played live for several years). It’s for dreamers of all ages who love to let a song carry them away so much they forget where they are.

On a technical level this is an album that showcases an extraordinary singer and writer. On an emotional level it’s an album that simply makes you want to listen to it over and over. Regardless of what sort of music you love, Libby O’Donovan’s talent, skill and ability demand attention – so give your attention to Back to Broken Hill.

Back to Broken Hill is out now from ABC Music.

Apple Music | iTunes

libbyodonovan.com