Those 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.
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On the ‘about’ page of Andrea Colburn and Mud Moseley’s website there is this: The King and Queen of the Hillbilly Underground from North Georgia – which is a declaration and a story all in itself. In this way the statement is a very suitable introduction to Easy, Sleazy and Greazy, the new album from Colburn and Mud Moseley.
There are stories galore on this album, some of them exploring dark underbellies and darker emotions, some stepping straight into the toe-tapping traditions of country. Colburn doesn’t so much sing as you call you in, to pay attention to her (although she does have a great singing voice). She’s accompanied by guitar parts – presumably played by Moseley – that have their own stories, although at first you’ll want to listen to Colburn’s voice telling you what’s what.
This is not a beginner’s introduction to country music, particularly if you’re used to lyrics that sound like a repeat of so many other love songs. This is country music for those who love the storytelling side of country, and the side where people aren’t afraid to bring their real selves to their work. Colburn and Moseley seem so real that they could set up their gear in the corner of your living room and play just to you, and you’d think they’re singing just to you, but in the way of true artists their work is not only intimate but universal, familiar and strange all at the same time.
Easy, Sleazy and Greazy is out now.
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Australian country music artists often cover American country songs, which is, of course, completely fitting: our country music can trace a certain amount of its lineage from the United States. However, while many of those Australian artists do a wonderful job with those covers, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than American-born now Australian-resident Jen Mize and Brisbane artist Mark Sholtez, who have released the album Twilight on the Trail, a collection of old American cowboy songs such as the traditional ‘Home on the Range’, ‘The Black Hills of Dakota’ (originally sung by Doris Day in Calamity Jane) and ‘Cow Cow Boogie’ (sung by artists including Dorothy Dandridge and Ella Fitzgerald).
Continue reading “Album review: Twilight on the Trail by Jen Mize & Mark Sholtez”
The Wolfe Brothers have a reputation – a good one. It involves them being a country rock band, and always putting on a great show, and being very, very entertaining. They will put the same amount of energy into three songs at the Peel Street Fanzone as a massive festival show. They’ve been Lee Kernaghan’s touring band for years, as well as playing in the support slot at his shows, so they’ve had lots of opportunities to develop their skills and they’ve taken them. Nothing at all is wrong with what they’ve been doing, so it wouldn’t make sense to change it. More than that, they’d have to be brave to change something their fans love. Yet change it they have.
Country Heart is the Tasmanian band’s fourth studio album, and when I last interviewed guitarist Brodie Rainbird he mentioned that it was going to be very different to the first three. For the first time they had asked popular producer Matt Fell to work on an album with them, and Fell’s direction was not just completely different to what they were used to but they loved it. And that enjoyment of the experience is evident all over this record.
Continue reading “Album review: Country Heart by The Wolfe Brothers”
South Australian singer-songwriter Juliet Oliver first became interested in country music through Miley Cyrus’s alter ego, Hannah Montana. Oliver was 11 at the time, and at that same age her parents bought her a guitar. Over time her musical influences changed to Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt and Jason Isbell. Oliver is still only 19 years old but some of those later influences can be heard on her self-titled debut EP, released earlier this month.
Oliver has Cline’s edge mixed with Parton’s warmth, and Parton and Ronstadt’s pop melodic sensibilities. The EP contains four country-pop songs that hit the right notes melodically and lyrically. The adjective that first comes to mind is ‘sweet’, and that is not at all a pejorative – pop songs should be sweet, and with country pop it’s often the country part that gives them a little dollop of pain or regret or wistfulness to balance it out.
Oliver has struck that balance, and this is a perfect little package that introduces a very talented newcomer.
Juliet Oliver is out now.
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When I interviewed Missy Lancaster last year it was clear she was a young artist focused on her craft and passionate about music. While her past had been difficult, she was looking ahead to the release of her album. Now Piece of Me is out and it’s clear why she was excited – the ten songs on this album balance light and dark, and deliver very satisfying, memorable country pop.
Lancaster is great at the uptempo, upbeat songs but it’s on the more melancholic tracks that her emotional and vocal ranges shine. In some hands the poignant and wistful ‘When I Grow Up’ might sound turgid, as with a different interpretation the lyrics could turn into a complaint. In Lancaster’s hands the song is occasionally mournful and not in the way of a newly grown-up adult lamenting that life isn’t turning out as she’d been promised. There is pain here – the pain of leaving behind what is safe even if it’s not wonderful, and fear of what is unknown even if it could be great. It’s the most irresistible song on the album, closely followed by the first single, ‘Forget’, which is a song about lost love which also has nuances in tone that give the lyrics a different weight. Another standout track, ‘Never in Love’, is heavy with resignation and regret, but not blame.
Pop music has, of course, always contained more than catchiness – those of us (still) devoted to ABBA will argue forever about how meaningful their songs are, although if pressed as to why we’d have to admit that the meaning has more to do with how the songs are sung than the lyrics. By virtue of sitting within country music, country pop is probably expected to deliver more to its audience than straight-up pop music. It should have stories, for one thing, even if stories aren’t pop music’s stock in trade as much as feelings are. In Lancaster’s case the stories are in her voice. She doesn’t push out feeling so that the audience can recognise that there’s something going on. The feeling is genuine, and she not only gives into it but has mastered it. On one level of listening, Piece of Me is doing its pop music job – perhaps forgettable, as a lot of pop music can be, but that’s okay because its job is to entertain. On another level, though, it’s clear Lancaster is already a sophisticated singer and artist who can get inside a song and ascertain exactly what it needs to both entertain and mean something to its audience – and that, in sum, is probably the definition of what country pop should be.
Piece of Me is out now through Sony Music.
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Better Than Ever is the first release from NSW Central Coast singer-songwriter Chelsea Berman but she certainly isn’t new to country music, winning the Homegrown Songwriting Competition in 2015 and the Central Coast Country Music Festival Busking Competition in 2013, and becoming a finalist in the Australian Songwriters Association Songwriting Competition in 2014, 2015 and 2016. It’s appropriate, then, that this EP sounds like the work of someone who knows what she’s doing.
The EP contains five songs of country pop that showcase Berman’s skills – mainly, though, the star is her voice. She has a really lovely tone that sounds rounded and warm, and she treats the lyrics with respect. While she has a great range, there’s no showing off; the way these songs are presented completely suits the way they’re written, which is, of course, down to the producer as well as the artist.
Australian country music is always evolving, and there are now quite a few artists in the country pop and country rock genres. Lyrically those songs are different to traditional country, and often vocally too, but it seems that artists who want to write and sing authentically are attracted to country music because it allows them to do just that. Berman is clearly an artist who is creating from her heart, wanting to connect with an audience – and succeeding.
Better Than Ever is out now.