Category: album review

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

Album review: Spectacular Heartbreak by Hayley Marsten

HM_SH_1500px.jpgQueensland singer-songwriter Hayley Marsten has been releasing music since 2015. She started with singles, and with them established her country music lineage as well as her songwriting skills. From the start she’s had a particular way with words – an ability to find a different angle on a story or a turn of phrase that is memorable; she’s also not afraid to be funny. For these reasons she is reminiscent of – but quite different to – Beccy Cole and Fanny Lumsden, two artists who are in themselves not at all similar but who are both steeped in country music and able to find their own ways of expressing that heritage while appealing to contemporary audiences.

In 2017 Marsten released the EP Lonestar, which offered six songs’ worth of proof – if more was needed – that she was creating a distinct identity within country music, building on the pillars of songwriting, singing and performance that were apparent from the start.

It’s taken four years since those first singles for Marsten to release her debut album, Spectacular Heartbreak, and no doubt she’s had to be patient in that time. It must be tempting to release an album as soon as you have the songs – and no doubt she had them. But she waited until she had eleven that were just right. The result is an album that is completely satisfying, engrossing, emotional and balanced. From the opening, title track, Marsten sets the tone: the lyrics may be about a ‘spectacular heartbreak’ but this is not the album of a woman who is wallowing. The wink and nod she’s always had in her lyrics are there, as is the door she opens to show that she’s on our side – she’s singing to us, and she’s letting us in on her stories.

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Album review: Driving Out of Eden by Corey Legge

713+0RpD3ML._SS500_Corey Legge is a singer-songwriter originally from Bega on the south coast of New South Wales, now residing in Wollongong. His debut album, Driving Out of Eden, was actually released in February – but in these days of independent releases and so much good country music to discover, it can sometimes take a while for news to filter out. Still, despite the lateness of this review, this album is worth writing about.

Legge has been performing for several years, supporting Australian acts such as The Angels and Brian Cadd, appearing at the Cobargo Folk Festival in NSW and Nukara Music Festival in WA. He’s also been the recipient of a Young Regional Artist Scholarship from CreateNSW. Intriguingly, he decided to record Driving Out of Eden in New Zealand with producer Ben Edwards, who has worked with Marlon Williams, amongst others.

This kind of background suggests a steady accumulation of skills and knowledge – a patience, perhaps, in the development of the art and craft of songwriting and performance. It’s the sort of information that’s always useful to have about an artist if you’re going to listen closely to the work, because it suggests the lineage of that artist, and it’s always interesting to try to detect that in the work. And it’s there in Legge’s highly accomplished debut release.

There are nine songs on this album and they are all very, very good. Legge’s background is in folk and Americana, and that can be heard in the musical style. But no amount of lineage or influence, really, can determine how an artist is going to connect with their audience and the key to the beauty of this album – for this listener, at least – is in Legge’s voice. There is a lot of nuance and awareness in its ravines, and light and hopefulness in its mountain tops; it brings wistfulness and sometimes an appropriate weariness to the lyrics, which are reflective and regretful in places, and which also grab the listener’s attention from the first song.

Legge has emerged relatively quietly onto the national music scene, although this is not the album of a quiet artist – an unassuming one, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve or demand your attention.

Driving Out of Eden is out now.

Apple Music | Artist’s website | Spotify