Category: album review

EP review: Feels Like Travelling Home by Corn Nut Creek

2fdf25_84f2c886bb174b83aafcc7972ac6401d~mv2Corn Nut Creek is a duo made up of very fine musicians and singers Tanya Bradley and Danielle Vita. Melbourne-based Bradley met Sydney-based, New York native Danielle Vita nine years ago in Hong Kong, where they played together as part of folk orchestra the Dulcet Tone Collective. They discovered a mutual love of bluegrass music and since then have been writing and performing together.

Feels Like Travelling Home is their first EP and features the duo’s key instruments of fiddle (Vita) and banjo (Bradley), and their complementary and contrasting vocals. The five tracks draw on traditions of bluegrass, Americana and folk, and form an often lively collection of tunes that will greatly please aficionados of those traditions as well as appealing to newcomers.

Instrumental track ‘Chicken in the Kitchen/Harper & Louis’ is as much fun as the title suggests. Some of the songs, such as the sublime ‘Baby Blue’, recount experiences of new motherhood. All five tracks are infused with the duo’s expertise, and with love – it is clear that they love what they are doing because there is a lightness to the vocals that doesn’t suggest the lyrics aren’t serious (because they can be) so much as indicating that Bradley and Vita are in the right place at the right time, doing what brings them joy.

Apple Music

Album review: With a Bullet Between My Teeth by Amber Rae Slade

a4276077920_16There isn’t much in the way of biographical information available online for singer-songwriter Amber Rae Slade, except that she was born in Detroit, Michigan to a musical family and now lives in Sydney (New South Wales). Knowing more about her wouldn’t necessarily affect how one listens to her music – it’s just nice to know – but not knowing more about her does mean that we can presume that everything she wants us to know is in her music.

With a Bullet Between My Teeth is Slade’s new album. It was produced, engineered, and mixed by Matt Fell, with additional engineering by Shane Nicholson and mastered by Michael Carpenter. So there are heavyweights involved with this album, and no doubt they’ve made great contributions – Fell plays most of the instruments in addition to his other roles – but the album is exceptional because of the songs and the singer.

Slade has a voice that is earthy and edgy, passionate and knowing. By subtly shifting tone she can implore or dictate or confide, and thereby indicates that she is giving us a panoply of experiences in these songs, all of which but one (‘Betty Was Black (& Willie Was White)’) were written by her. It seems like a road album, not least because it feels like Slade is in constant motion, sometimes urgent, looking round the next corner and ahead to the next wide open space, hungry for experiences but stopping sometimes to reflect and document them. It’s also a rollicking ride, and if you sit back and absorb the songs in turn, it really does feel like the rhythms of the songs mimic the rhythms of travelling through a diverse landscape: up hill and down dale, through forests and deserts.

So if Slade wants us to learn about her from her songs, what we can take away is this: she has things to tell us, and they’ll be things we want to hear, and we have to trust her enough to give her the time to tell us. That also means she has to be able to trust us. The performer and their audience is, after all, a relationship. And With a Bullet Between My Teeth is definitely a relationship, not a flirtation. It’s a commitment, not because it’s hard work but because Slade pulls us close and when an artist pays the audience that compliment we had better respect it. The reward is 11 songs that are constantly rewarding and often rapturous.

With a Bullet Between My Teeth is only available on Bandcamp. Pay whatever you want from as little as $1. Half of all proceeds go to the Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre in Redfern. 


Album review: Seasons by The New Graces

a0139668036_10When a band is made up of performers who have been in other bands or had solo releases, it’s tempting to say that the new entity is ‘more than the sum of its parts’, as if that new entity has conjured some kind of magic that wasn’t there in previous efforts. In the case of The New Graces and its members – Melanie Horsnell, Kate Burke and Robyn Martin – the sum is just as extraordinary as its parts would suggest.

Horsnell has released over ten albums, written songs with artists such as Catherine Britt and Wendy Matthews, and written music for film and television. Burke is a multi-instrumentalist and singer who has been in a folk duo and and Irish/Australian traditional band, and also works as a scientist and science communicator. Martin started playing bass at age 13 in the family band, and since then has played in many festivals, and with other artists. Individually their pedigrees are excellent, and combined they have almost immediately become a powerful force in Australian country and folk music, with the release of The New Graces’ first album, Seasons.

Lead vocal duties are shared across the twelve songs, with the other two singers contributing harmonies that enrich each song, bringing complexity and, often, robustness. These are songs with earth under their fingernails, lyrically and musically; songs of lives well and deeply lived, of land loved, of heartbreaks and wonders. These are the sorts of songs you’d hope to eventuate when three artists like this come together to create something new, but of course there’s no formula for joy – and listening to this album is truly a joyous experience, every single time.

While some works of art offer escape from the world, this album holds up real life and says: You can’t escape it, but there’s beauty here and we’ll show you. A lot of that beauty is in the execution of the songs: the way each singer understands what to offer to the song, either as the lead or in harmony; the ease with which they work together, the sort of ease that only comes from years of work; the fact that the songs are reassuring yet can also tilt you off your axis. Although the harmonies are glorious, this is actually not an album to make you comfortable. It wants to bring the listener close, and ask them to get inside the stories that are offered, to feel everything the singers feel. That makes for a whole-body and whole-heart experience, and one that can’t help leaving you wanting more, hoping there’s another album not far away – or even, one dares to hope, the chance to see The New Graces perform in person.

Buy the CD, vinyl or digital album from Bandcamp.

Apple Music | iTunes



EP review: Are You Listening? by Mama Kin Spender

MKS-CENTRAL IMAGEAfter listening to the new Mama Kin Spender EP, Are You Listening?, several times, the word that keeps coming up is this: sorcery. It is sorcery. ‘Bewitching’ isn’t strong enough to describe the effect of the combined talents of Danielle Caruana (Mama Kin) and Tommy Spender. There are four tracks on this EP – ‘What’s Wrong With Me?’ was the first single – which each have distinct identities and sounds, but the effect of all four together is to hold the listener completely entranced.

Sorcery needs work, of course – you can’t cast a spell without knowing what you’re doing – and each song is so mindfully crafted that Caruana and Spender have clearly put in the work, separately and together. They have known each other for twenty years, and that connection with and knowledge of each other doesn’t mean they’re coasting here: instead, they seem to use their familiarity to reach into themselves and each other to pull out secrets and truths.

‘What’s Wrong With Me?’ is the opening track and it never loses its power no matter how many times you listen to it. Second track ‘Eye of the Storm’ uses instruments and vocals to gloriously evoke the unease of being in the eye.

They employ layered vocals in ‘Blue Belle’ to almost literally cause a rumble in the belly, and a pull of almost primal recognition (the acoustic version of ‘Blue Belle’ has its premiere here: see the video below).


The last track, ‘The Road’, opens up sonically to suggest freedom and mystery. Caruana and Spender share the lead vocals, each urging the other on down the road.

This is a gutsy, emotional, strong, passionate collection of songs that truly feel like they are written and performed from the heart, and, therefore, reach into the heart of the listener. They’re challenging because there’s nowhere for the listener to hide here – Caruana and Spender are asking as much honesty of the listener as they have offered themselves. This is not music for a lazy afternoon. It’s for shouting at the moon and digging into the earth. And it may only be four songs long but there’s such a range of experiences in those four that you feel as though you’ve been on a complete journey: of being alive, of being human, of not resiling from all the experiences life has to throw at and offer you. It’s not an EP for the faint of heart or the lily livered. Gird your loins, gear up, and prepare to be present – Mama Kin Spender have done all of that, and more, and that’s the only fitting way to receive what they offer here.

Are You Listening? is out now.

Listen on:

Apple Music | iTunes


Album review: Speed of Life by Adam Brand

unnamed (9)The direction of Adam Brand’s new album, Speed of Life, was telegraphed when he released the single ‘Life’s Been Good to Me’ last year. This was Brand in laidback mode, grateful for the good things in life and philosophical about the bad. He followed it with ‘Freakin’ Weekend’, which was more in the style of his earlier energetic work – and which was an indication to his longtime fans that he had not forgotten them. But Fly is very definitely the work of a more mellow Brand.

Recorded before the birth of his daughter, with Luke Wooten (who has worked with Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley) as producer, Speed of Life could be described as a feel-good album, because it does leave you feeling good, but that’s also a fairly pat description for something that is another evolution in sound and style for Brand. On his 2017 album, Get On Your Feet, Brand sounded more confident than he had in the past – more centred, and also more relaxed in himself. Certainly someone who has entertained as many people as he has should feel confident, but there is often a difference – in courage as well as skill – between performing live to large crowds and standing alone in a sound booth recording vocals. In the latter experience it can be a lot harder to hide, and thus the performer is more vulnerable. In Get On Your Feet Brand had the courage to lead with his heart, and start to be vulnerable, and this is the evolution he’s continued on Speed of Life.

This latest album is absolutely heartfelt, and a lot of the songs are about connections – of life and love, and not necessarily romantic. There is a prayer for the future in ‘Fly’, and encouragement for the forlorn in the powerful ‘You Are Not Alone’, a duet with Casey Donovan. In ‘Don’t Wanna Let You Down’ there is Brand stepping into his new roles in life and hoping he gets them right.

One of the things Brand has done consistently throughout his career is to give his audience what they need as well as what they want. This latest album probably tips more to the former – his fans may want, or think they want, the rowdier Brand of the past, but right now they probably need the Brand who is prepared to put his heart and soul on the line to bring them an album that will make them smile, and also bring a tear, and overall leave them feeling just about as right with the world as he does. That’s not to say this album isn’t loud – in parts it is – so there is still the option for it to be a party soundtrack (once parties are allowed again). But it’s also an album worth savouring – the fruit of Brand having a relationship with his fans for many years, and being able to read them and give them something just right.

Speed of Life is out now through ABC Music/Universal Music Australia.

Listen on/buy from:

Apple Music | iTunes | JB Hi-Fi | Sanity


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:

Apple Music | iTunes | Spotify

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