Category: album review

Album review: Golden Exile by James Thomson

Hi-Res Album Cover (300 DPI)No doubt it’s an accident of fate that some of the music released this month can slot into the ‘self-care’ category but let’s just be thankful that the planets have lined up that way, and add the new album by singer-songwriter James Thomson to the list. Golden Exile is the third album from the Newcastle (NSW) musician and it could have been designed to make you feel more content with staying home and letting it musically rock you in its arms, not because it will put you to sleep but because it will give you that feeling, for a little while, that everything is just fine.

Thomson has influences from American folk, rock and country, including Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and they’re evident in the laidback, spaced-out structure of the songs. Thomson doesn’t rush his listener into understanding his meaning, or picking up the story – each song is given time. Yet repeated listening makes it clear that Thomson is actually a really tight songwriter and performer. For all the feeling of space and time, on closer listening these songs are precisely written and Thomson hits his mark each time. The performance side of this was no doubt aided by producer Roger Bergodaz and the musicians who performed live on the album with Thomson, including the stellar Tracy McNeil, Sean McMahon, Steve Hadley, Shane Riley and Ezra Lee. On the writing side it means that the songs were ready – not overworked or undercooked – so that the album could be recorded in six days and still offer that sense of unhurried openness.

The album feels like an invitation to the listener to step inside Thomson’s world and just be – and this is part of what makes it excellent for the aforementioned self-care. An artist who has done the hard work for us also tends not to ask too much of us, in the nicest possible way. He’s taking care of us and all he wants us to do is listen. There can be few things more luxurious, and freeing, than to be offered that experience at a time when our brains are crowded and emotions singed. So one of the best things you can do for yourself right now is put on this album, lie down, imagine yourself in a convertible on a wide open road, feel the wind in your hair and the sense of promise that the road ahead hints at – because this album sounds like it was made for just that experience – then be grateful for the experience and try to repeat it as often as possible.

Golden Exile is out now.

Listen on/buy from:

Apple Music | iTunes




EP review: Garlic Pickin’ Time by William Alexander

a0167185749_16William Alexander was born in the town of Bourke in northern New South Wales and grew up in the western country of that state. While his musical influences include Elvis Presley and 80s rock, he found more affinity with hillbilly and western singers such as Tex Morton, Slim Dusty, Buddy Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. From the first bars of his new EP, Garlic Pickin’ Time, that lineage is not only clear but strongly, appealingly upheld.

The six songs on this EP are old timey in style but do not sound like an anachronism or a tribute – instead, it’s clear that Alexander deeply understands the music that has informed his development as a singer, songwriter and musician. While there’s not a lot of country music of this style being produced in Australia these days, that doesn’t mean Alexander is out of place because he offers something that is broadly appealing. The songs are lean on instrumentation but he has such a rich tone to his voice that it shouldn’t be set against a musical background that could in any way mask it. Alexander is one of those singers who could, as the saying goes, sing the phone book and people would pay to listen.

The subject matter of the songs draws in part from Alexander’s background – in his teens his family moved to the Mallee in Victoria but he still feels the connection to his original home, as evident in the final track, ‘My Old Bourke Home’. Nostalgia is not a pejorative term when it comes to this style of music; in fact, it’s almost a necessity, and Alexander manages to be nostalgic without being saccharine or maudlin. It comes back to that voice: robust, sympathetic and honest. And you don’t have to wonder what the phone book sounds like sung, because you can listen to this very fine EP instead.

Listen on/buy from:

Apple Music | Bandcamp | iTunes





EP review: Train Wreck Hearts by Sarah McAdams

unnamed-7Let’s not pretend that what’s happening right now in Australia and the rest of the world isn’t unsettling, at best. For many people normal routines are over and there’s no way to know when they may be restored. A lot of us are working from home and others are not leaving home at all. It’s a time for containment and introspection. And one of the only respites is art. Music, books, films, TV shows – they’re all going to play an important role in how we experience the next few weeks, or months.

Music has the advantage of being able to offer entertainment, distraction or solace in a short space of time. One song can change a mood. One song can make us believe that everything isn’t as bad as it seems, even if only for a moment. Sarah McAdams – a singer-songwriter from the lower Blue Mountains, NSW – has released her debut EP in the midst of a time of flux and I for one am very pleased that it has come along. McAdams is a great country pop artist whose songs are full of heart and meaning, in which pragmatism wins over sentiment, and they are also entertainment. McAdams has a smooth, versatile voice that suits the four songs she has chosen, and those songs are moreish creations.

McAdams graduated from the CMAA Senior Academy of Country Music earlier this year, and no doubt she benefitted from the experience, but she already had a pedigree: attending ENCORE MUSIC CAMP with Nash Chambers, Morgan Evans and Harry Hookey, a songwriting workshop with Wes Carr, private mentor sessions with Wes Carr, MMAD 351 Camps, MMAD Programs, the very first Girls Rock Camp Canberra and Girls Rock Camp Sydney. She’s a proud member of the Macarthur Country Music Club and recently a finalist in 94.1 Today’s Country, Brand New Star. She also studied Music Performance at TAFE. It is, therefore, no surprise that this EP is an accomplished release by an artist who lets you know, very early, that she knows exactly what she’s doing. And on this day, in this age, that is both a relief and a treat.

Listen on/buy from:

Apple Music | Artist’s website | iTunes

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.

Buy CD or vinyl from: | JBHiFi | Sanity

Listen on:

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EP review: Raddle ‘n’ Rise by Josh Arnold and The Woolshed Band

unnamed-4Josh Arnold is a Golden Guitar-winning country music artist who of late has been focused on taking music to communities around Australia rather than releasing new recordings. Now, though, he has a new band and a new EP, Raddle ‘n’ Rise, which contains six songs written by Arnold, who grew up around shearing sheds and documents the shearer’s life and the culture of the woolshed, and other aspects of working the land, on this EP.

Lyrically these are songs in the lineage of bush ballads as well as some of Troy Cassar-Daley’s work (such as ‘Born to Survive), amongst others. The life and lifestyle they document are tough and gritty; Arnold’s voice, by some contrast, can have a lovely smoothness to it that brings the listener close and gives the songs the feeling of a confessional rather than a manifesto, although there’s a bit of that to them as well.

Country music has its roots, of course, in life on the land and also in songs of work. That makes these songs classic country music, in their way, although they’d also have a place as drinking songs, campfire songs and driving songs. Their driving tempo suggests the hard, relentless nature of the shearer’s life – of rural life – and also a determination to get through the toughness and find the sweeter side, even if that’s elusive.

The last song, ‘Convict’, could be seen as the odd one out, lyrically, as it’s the story of an Irish convict sent to the colony, but it fits with the others tonally and in the sense that it’s also about a hard life, although musically it owes more to Celtic folk than country music.

All six songs have layers that reveal themselves with repeated listening. Yes, they could be great songs to play on your road trip and let the beat carry you along. But it is clear that Arnold’s experience with using music to communicate with and to all sorts of people have seen him develop very fine writing skills that make these songs not just interesting but irresistible.

Listen on:

Apple Music | iTunes | Spotify



Album review: Mexican Hillbilly Surf Music by The Mezcaltones

20200121-132413-0000There’s a lot to be said for a band playing lots of shows: it tends to keep them tight and gives them an opportunity to work out any little niggles in the songs in order to get them right before they’re recorded. That’s the idea, anyway. But all the live performances in the world can’t help a band if they don’t actually have the communication and cohesion to make the recording experience work as well as the live experience.

Sydney band The Mezcaltones play a lot, around their home city and also at festivals like Tamworth, Dashville and Groundwater. Their live shows are highly energetic and entertaining, becoming more so with time – a sign that not only is the band full of professionals but that they understand their relationship with their audience: they’re not  on stage just to amuse themselves but to deliver something great. It’s always worth understanding the context of any band or artist’s music before approaching a recording, because that context is a big part of the story of any album (or song). So it is with Mexican Hillbilly Surf Music, The Mezcaltones’ third album. The nine tracks are as tight and professional as the band’s live sound and also manage to capture the spirit of the performance, which can sometimes be lacking when a great live band gets into the studio.

The opening track, ‘Hillbilly Surf Rage’, is an instrumental displaying the impressive lead guitar of El Shango – and a little (not unwelcome) misdirection, because this is a band whose lead vocalist, Col Padre (as he’s styled here), is central to their sound. Drawing on Waylon, Willie and Johnny for inspiration with a dose of Slim Dusty’s wry style, Col sets the tone for the rest of the tracks, a mix of originals and covers. The album comes in just under thirty minutes in length, although a lot is packed into that time, including both types of music (country and western, of course). This is a road trip album, a party treat, and a pick-me-up. Summer may be ending, but there’s still time to appreciate this perfect package of Mexican hillbilly surf music.

Buy from the band:

Listen on:

Apple Music | iTunes | Spotify




Album review: Bonedigger by Allison Forbes

34f3fe9da082416ba22216ffef685ceeAllison Forbes is well known to anyone who has been visiting the Tamworth Country Music Festival in recent years. Not only is Forbes one of the artists who plays at least once a day throughout the festival, she also organises shows that bring emerging artists, in particular, to audiences. Her distinctive voice is recognisable instantly, the sort of voice that gets described as ‘powerhouse’ because she’s such a strong singer – but Forbes’s new album, Bonedigger, also demonstrates just how complex it is. Forbes can belt it out, and that would be the easy thing to do on each and every song.

Perhaps it would even be easier for some listeners, because it might hold us at one remove from the honesty and emotion of the lyrics. But Forbes is far too honest a performer for that. These songs are about her, and she finds the right way to deliver them to us each and every time, and that means bringing us sadness and disappointment – and sometimes admonishment – where appropriate. Forbes has brought her whole self to this project, and in order to appreciate it we have to bring our whole selves too. The rewards for that are plentiful, though: the light and the dark of this album, and Forbes’s willingness to explore it all, is part of what makes it so interesting.

Bonedigger was produced by Shane Nicholson, of whom Forbes has said, ‘I’ve been around but I never had confidence in my music at all and Shane turned
that around for me and gave me belief … He understood the songs
so well and his musical genius is incredible. He could hear things in the song that I
couldn’t even hear.’ One of Nicholson’s great talents as a producer is in identifying what is great about the individual he is working with and bringing that out – in the case of Forbes, it is letting her not just be herself but encouraging her to be that completely. No editing of story or emotion to suit a notion of what a song should sound like. The result is an album that is a portrait of an artist in detail, rather than broad strokes. It’s a wonderful piece of work.

Listen on:

Apple Music | iTunes | Spotify

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