Category: album review

Album review: Fireroad Vol. 1 by Dusty Miles

a3872986107_16.jpgShane Hicks – the man behind Dusty Miles – is a founding member of Brisbane blues-rock band The Blackwater Fever. His new venture is more in the singer-songwriter vein, edging into country music, and it’s the album Fireroad Vol. 1. There is very little other information to be found about Miles apart from the fact that he wrote, performed, mixed and recorded Fireroad Vol. 1 as well as doing the cover artwork. And what that does is force a reviewer to accept the music as the only possible biography there is – but even then Miles is not a songwriter in the confessional vein. Fireroad Vol. 1 is a collection of stories that take a while to get to know, and the reason you’ll want to spend the time to get to know them is because the music lodges into your synapses. Snippets of these songs pop into the mind at random times and each one calls you back to the album.

Fireroad Vol. 1 seems to contain a song cycle, describing a man in flight and also in pursuit, one who has regrets but who isn’t letting them stop him moving forwards, and moving on. The music is evocative of space and distance, across landscape and time. There’s sadness in it, especially in ‘Lead Me Home’, and there’s also insouciance, as in ‘Laying in the Sun’.

All of that is an effort to describe what can be indescribable – to rationally explain an emotional and visceral response to music, which is what a lot of writing about music seeks to do. The truth of this album is that it’s catchy without having obvious musical hooks; it’s memorable because its purpose not narrowly defined, and therefore not easy to figure out. It will make you want to laze around and listen to it, although it’s also a very good accompaniment to a long walk – and any music that is a great companion is serving that bigger purpose of art: to help us navigate life, to stimulate our senses and our brains, to reward our curiosity, and to, often, simply be great entertainment. Fireroad Vol. 1 does all that and more.

Listen to Fireroad Vol. 1 on:

Apple Music | BandcampiTunes | Soundcloud | Spotify

EP review: The River by The Holy Smoke

HolySmoke_EP_Insta_600x600px.jpgEarlier this year Perth trio The Holy Smoke released the single ‘Lay Your Head Down’, which was an example of just how much beauty can be created when three talented and accomplished individuals decide to make music together, as they been doing since meeting at a creative retreat in 2016. They have extensive musical experience: Rose Parker has toured extensively throughout Australia, USA and Canada as one half of the Velvet Janes, supporting artists including Arlo Guthrie, Ani DiFranco, Luka Bloom and The Black Sorrows; Delilah Rose is a 2018 WAM Award nominee, 2019 ISC Songwriting Comp nominee and 2019 WA Country Music Award winner, and Karlee Rae is a top graduate from WAAPA, is in her 20th year of vocal and piano coaching, has toured internationally and recorded multiple albums and EPs.

Happily, that single was just the entree to their sound: they have now released the five-song EP The River. Water is the common theme for all of the songs, although each song is quite different. There is a range of moods on the EP, but overall the trio’s gospel, country folk and soul sound is sublime. This is the sort of music that you can listen to when you need a motivating start to the day, or you want to reminded that there is beauty in the world – or you simply want to be transported, because it’s easy to lose yourself inside these harmonies and wish you could stay there for a while.

The River is available now:

Apple Music | iTunes | Spotify

Album review: Searching for Magpies by KTG

400x400bb-2.jpegIrish artist KTG (Katie Gallagher) has a voice that is impossible to ignore, and that’s why it’s the first thing to mention in this review of her mini-album, Searching for Magpies – because it will be the first thing you notice, and it will hook you in from the opening track, ‘Don’t Tell My Mother’, which then leads in to a collection of musically eclectic tracks, ranging from folk to soul to pop and rock (and not so much country, but sometimes it’s good to take a detour).

But here’s a suggestion: listen to the last track first. It’s call ‘December’ and it’s recorded live, just KTG and a guitar. While it does make a fine last track, it is also a wonderful introduction to KTG’s abilities and the emotion she conjures. You can then start at the proper beginning, run all the way through the varying styles of songs and still enjoy hearing the song again. Indeed, any of the songs on this album could be performed by KTG alone with a guitar and they would still be compelling, which is a mark not just of her strength in performance but of the structure of the songs.

KTG has said that the album is based on the old tale about magpies (one for sorrow, two for joy, and so on) as each track relates to one of the lines in the rhyme. ‘It was inspired by my fascination for magpies,’ she says, ‘and how paranoid I get when I only see one magpie by itself.’ And while there is a unifying theme, the songs can be enjoyed in and of themselves. For many listeners the album will be an introduction to KTG but she has been performing since the age of five. Now twenty-two, she is clearly an artist in command of her skills and her stories.

Searching for Magpies is out now through Beardfire Music.

Apple Music | iTunes | Spotify

EP review: Older by Simon Imrei

Simon Imrei (Older EP - Cover Art).jpgEarlier this year Victorian singer-songwriter Simon Imrei released a single called ‘Stand Still’, which was endorsed on this site as ‘easy to listen to’ – a compliment that is taken as a pejorative by some people but which is not at all, because writing a song that is easy to listen to often involves the ability to not only hone but ruthlessly edit melody and lyrics in order to produce something that is accessible to a broad range of people. When an artist produces something that is ‘easy to listen to’ they tend to be audience focused, thinking of the best way they can communicate clearly with others.

Now that Imrei has released a new EP, Older – which contains ‘Stand Still’ – it’s clear that communicating with an audience is a priority for him. The EP contains five songs that are sweet and bittersweet, thoughtful, and clear in what they’re expressing – and all of that applies to the music as well as the lyrics. Imrei has an ear for a catchy melody, and that is a talent as well as a skill. Imrei’s bio states that he grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, and spent his childhood ‘riding in the back of cars along tree-lined roads and through quiet towns listening to the catchy choruses and the pop sensibility of 80s/90s radio’. So it’s likely that’s partly what led to his melodic skills and also his ability to create songs that conjure that sense of distance and space that comes from travelling around the Australian countryside.

What that doesn’t account for, though, is his voice, which sounds like it’s smooth – although that implies smoothed out, whereas it’s actually full of nuance. It’s the sort of voice that could sing you the side of a cereal box and you’d be content, but that’s not to take away from rewards that are to be found in listening closely to the lyrics of this very satisfying, accomplished EP. Imrei has developed and fully inhabits both parts of being a ‘singer-songwriter’ and that is to the very great benefit of the listener.

Older is out now.

Apple Music | Bandcamp | iTunes | Spotify



Album review: The Weir by Michael Waugh

Michael Waugh The Weir 3000x3000px 72dpi.jpgVictorian singer-songwriter Michael Waugh is a Golden Guitar nominee, for his 2016 album What We Might Be, and winner of the 2018 The Age Music Victoria Award for Best Folk and Roots Album. Folk is probably a more apt classification for his music than country, yet Waugh has become a fixture in Australian country music, and that’s because his sublime storytelling and his willingness to open his heart in performance are qualities that mean something to country music audiences.

Examples of those qualities appear throughout his new album, The Weir, but they’ll likely grab you first on track eight, ‘Warragul Police’. This song stands out on a first listen to the album, and it’s because of Waugh’s commitment to writing lyrics that are richly descriptive but not inherently sentimental. Waugh doesn’t try to manipulate the listener’s emotions – he tells the story, he fills it with colour and character, then he leaves it there for the listener to bring their own memories and experiences to it. The second track, ‘Big Things’, will make every listener think of their own childhoods but Waugh also lets you into his – again, without manipulation, but it’s impossible not to wonder what happened next in his story, and that’s the mark of great storytelling: satisfy our need for a convincing tale but always leave us wanting more.

The Weir was produced by Shane Nicholson, who has been at the reins of many fine country albums in recent years. Nicholson excels at bringing out the qualities of an artist that are unique to them and making sure the production supports those qualities. In the case of Waugh, it’s giving him space to tell his stories, so that his lyrics are at the forefront. That’s to encourage the listener to stay close and pay attention, so as not to miss a single detail. That attention is rewarded in each song, and with each listening. A song like ‘Mary Lou’ sounds like one thing if you’re not listening closely enough but becomes something else – something better – entirely if you are.

Waugh does not resile from addressing difficult subjects, whether they’re about his life, his past or present, or about the world he sees around him. Adjoining songs ’50 Words’ and ‘Born Here’ are companion pieces, looking at Australian immigration policy and social attitudes towards migrants. ‘Like I Used To’ sounds at first as if it’s going to be about difficulty but it becomes a different kind of love song instead.

In case it’s not already clear, this is an album that offers much for the listener who spends time with it. There’s a lot there on first listening and much more with each go round. Waugh is a thoughtful, expressive songwriter and as a singer he is prepared to be bare and honest. The result is an album that can be confronting sometimes, because it challenges the listener to be bare and honest in return, and also extremely rewarding.

The Weir is out now on Compass Bros Records through Universal Music Australia.

Apple Music | iTunes | JB Hi-Fi | Sanity | Spotify

Album review: Trucker Caps and Heart Attacks by Mat Black

MB Album art.jpgWith an album title like Trucker Caps and Heart Attacks, one might expect Mat Black to have the kind of gravelly, whisky-soaked-sounding voice that can sometimes be heard on country music songs about long, lonely drives on unstable roads (both literal and metaphorical). Instead, Black has a wonderful, versatile, warm and well-rounded instrument – a voice that stretches and bends and curves around the differing styles of the ten songs on his debut album.

The first single off the album, ‘Diamond Mine’, was co-written with fellow Melburnian Lachlan Bryan – Bryan has a distinctive musical identity, but the song belongs to Black. His musical lineage is in alt country and roots; his cited influences include Steve Earle and Johnny Cash, but perhaps they’d be better referred to as inspirations, because Black’s sound is not theirs. Instead he’s crafted his own identity, and it’s one of a man who clearly has stories to tell and who is able to find the right way to tell them.

The lyrics of these songs speak, in part, to darkness and difficulties – perhaps some of those aforementioned unstable roads – but Black is capable of a sweetness (not a pejorative) that suggests an ability to smooth the edges off the flint of his experience. Or, perhaps, to seek to find something good in it – even if that is to create a song out of it. Certainly Black doesn’t wallow in anything described in these songs, and the songs themselves suggest that: there is pace here, and some rollicking good times too. Musically the songs are all under the country umbrella while demonstrating Black’s versatility: there are some swampy moments, some bluesy, some honky tonk, and all of them appropriate to the song.

Ultimately, though, Black’s voice is the centrepiece. For anyone who loves music with lyrics, voice tends to be important – a singer can get in your ear and stay there, calling you back over and over to listen and pay attention, living in your mind and popping up at all sorts of odd times. Black has that kind of voice, and while it’s certainly not the only thing to love about this album, it is the first. Listen and just try to resist it.

Listen on:

Apple Music | Spotify


Album Launch
Sunday September 15
The Spotted Mallard
With special guests Gretta Ziller & Mr Alford
314 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Doors 3pm, music from 3.45pm
Tix $13.50 thru Moshtix:

EP review: Livin’ the Dream by Kim Wright

Livin The Dream Album 1500.jpgKim Wright is a singer-songwriter from Ipswich in Queensland, and his new EP, Livin’ the Dream, debuted at number 2 on the iTunes Country album chart. Its six songs are in a honky tonk style and three of them were written when Wright was still in his teens, while ‘Man of the House’ was penned more recently with Allan Caswell and ‘This Old Bar’ with Liam Kennedy-Clark. The latter produced the EP, which features musiciansMichel Rose, Glen Hannah, Lawrie Minson, Kurt Baumer, Pete Denahy, Roger Corbett, Angus Woodhead, and Joshua Blaikie, as well as Kennedy-Clark.

The EP’s title comes from Wright’s belief that ‘every day above ground’s a good one and I believe you should live each day to its fullest’, and it’s safe to say that listening to this EP will help the listener do just that. Wright often sounds like he’s having the time of his life on these tracks, and his enjoyment is infectious. The songs are tightly written and some sound like they are made to dance to – which probably makes this EP a party record, of sorts, except the EP is also worth sitting back and listening to, with its mix of seriousness and lightheartedness, and the last track, ‘Home’, providing a sweetly sad finish. Overall this is an upbeat offering that will put a smile on your face, cause your toes to tap and probably have you spontaneously jigging on the spot. And given Wright’s philosophy, that seems wonderfully appropriate.

Listen to Livin’ the Dream on:

Apple Music | Spotify