Category: album review

Album review: Boom Town by Steel City Sue

a4256143155_10.jpgSteel City Sue is a singer-songwriter from Newcastle, NSW, whose debut album, Boom Town, was recorded with Truckstop Honeymoon in Lawrence, Kansas. Sue is a fiddle player, and that traditional instrument of country music is an integral part of this album, which has already received accolades, with the title track winning the Karl Broadie Award for Best Song in the Australian Roots Music Awards and the album nominated for ARMA Best Album.

Sue writes songs about the place she lives in (‘From the Valley’ and ‘Coal Town’) and places she hasn’t yet been (‘Red Dirt Track’). Her lyrics are evocative of places, people and experiences; they are individual stories which, taken together, form a world view. These are songs of daily life and small challenges, as well as bigger changes such as the industrial changes in Newcastle. The lyrics are often personal yet delivered with some restraint – which is not a criticism, as it suggests a courteousness to the listener. The honesty and authenticity are there. But between any songwriter who has themselves as a subject and the listener on the other side there is a getting-to-know-you dance; therefore, on a first album some restraint is fitting.

The songs range through musical styles that all fit within the country umbrella, verging towards rock in some cases and pop in others. There are different moods, too, and all expressed by Sue’s compelling voice, which is sweet and sharp and knowing by turns.

Many Australian country music artists are interested in telling audiences about authentic experiences, and part of the beauty of the genre is how many different ways there are to do that, from Slim Dusty and Joy McKean to Troy Cassar-Daley, Beccy Cole, Lachlan Bryan, Sara Storer and Catherine Britt. Steel City Sue fits into the pantheon of very fine singer-songwriters in this country while offering something new and different: her stories told her way.

Boom Town is out now. Order the CD or download from:

steelcitysue.bandcamp.com

Album review: Take Me to Town

TMTTCov-700x622.jpgTake Me to Town may count as one album but it’s actually three CDs full of Australian alternative country music artists, some of whom will be familiar to readers of this blog – such as Tracy McNeil, The Weeping Willows, Lachlan Bryan, William Crighton and Jen Mize – and some who may be unknown simply because they are new.

Take Me to Town is the creation of Dave Favours from Sydney label Stanley Records, in concert with Chris Hamilton of Americana site Post to Wire, and Areatha Bryant of Mother Hen Touring. The trio decided on a list of artists and also secured some tracks that are exclusive to this release, from Ben Leece (who is about to release his debut album) and the always-compelling Katie Brianna, Sam Newton, Den Hanrahan, Peta Caswell and the increasingly prominent Michael Carpenter. Indeed, almost half the songs are exclusive to the compilation, so if you’re a country music fan who is wondering if it’s worth purchasing, that alone should convince you.

I’m fond of saying that country music is a broad umbrella and this compilation is proof that alternative country, too, deserves that description. The 47 tracks demonstrate that alt-country is flourishing around the land and pushing that genre, and Australian country music in general, into bold territory. There are elements of traditional country forms in these songs, reworked in a contemporary way or with a vocal flourish that creates something interesting. In some ways the compilation is an education about how country music is being interpreted and fashioned by new or new-is artists, and also how the work of more established artists like Lachlan Bryan and The Weeping Willows compares with songs from emerging artists. In this way the compilation also serves an almost anthropological purpose: the artists on this album are all pretty much from the same generation, yet how they approach their work is 47 ways of different.

Continue reading “Album review: Take Me to Town”

Album review: Catherine Britt & the Cold, Cold Hearts

Catherine+Britt+&+the+Cold,+Cold+Hearts.jpegNewcastle singer-songwriter Catherine Britt has been a presence in Australian country music for so long that it’s easy to forget she is still a young woman. She has released several albums, toured extensively, survived breast cancer and its treatment, bought Rhythms magazine, and recently become a mother. She has also moved to the other side of the mixing desk and become a producer – a very welcome development, given that Australian country music has many female artists but mostly male producers. Britt had the credentials to be a producer years ago – she emerged almost fully formed as artist, and her knowledge of music, especially country music, is vast – so she may become so busy producing other artists that she has little time for her own music. Which is why we should treasure her new project and album, both titled Catherine Britt & the Cold, Cold Hearts.

The album was recorded in Britt’s home studio, Beverley Hillbilly Studios, with engineer Jeff McCormack, while Britt and band members Michael Muchow and Andy Toombs produced the album, with Bill Chambers appearing on all the tracks.

Britt has often written personal songs, but not – from memory – a song cycle that is almost entirely personal, as this album is. In that way it’s an evolution from her previous album, Boneshaker, and musically it’s also a change, featuring a more stripped-back country style that suits Britt’s ‘honky tonk girl’ roots as well as the nature of the songs.

Britt has always been able to command and control emotion in her songs in a way that never feels manipulative of the listener, and that is true of several songs on this release, including ‘Too Hot to Quit’. She also does a very good haunting ballad, such as ‘The River & the Gum’. While her sound is always steeped in country music, she makes the most of the fact that there are many strands to country. Each of her albums contains a variety of song styles that always sound like Britt but which illustrate that her intelligence, experience and knowledge are such that she can call up what each song needs without giving into the temptation of doing what she’s done before.

In this Britt is reminiscent of Kasey Chambers – you could never mistake one for the other, and if they sang each other’s songs you’d be able to tell who wrote what, yet they both have an extraordinary ability to synthesise their musical history, talent and lyric abilities to create songs that come from a deeply personal place and are also universal. We don’t hear either of them being referred to as counting among ‘Australia’s greatest songwriters’ – they are not in that hallowed canon, apparently – but that’s what they are.

On this Cold, Cold Hearts record Catherine Britt proves – not that she needed to, because she has already done this, over and over – that she is an artist for the ages, accomplished, daring and strong. Let’s hope she continues to find time to write, record and produce her own music as she continues on the path of supporting other artists, leaving her mark, no doubt, on them the way she does on those who love her music.

Catherine Britt & the Cold, Cold Hearts is out now through Universal Music.

Buy the album from Catherine Britt’s website or on:

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity

www.catherinebritt.com

 

 

Album review: Sunday Morning Cinema by Dan Parsons

DanParsons_SMC CoverWEB.jpgCountry music is, more than most other genres, the music of evocation. Songwriters conjure emotions of relationships and situations, sometimes long past; they describe worlds and places. It’s then up to the singer to call on their own experiences to bring out nuances that even the songwriter may not have been aware of, even if they are that songwriter. Sometimes the singer sounds like they’re calling the faithful to worship, and anyone who has fallen under music’s spell knows that transcendent feeling of listening to a song that feels spiritual in nature because those elements of writing and performance create something that connects so deeply to you.

It is no surprise that Queensland-born singer-songwriter Dan Parsons has created an album’s worth of such songs on his new album, Sunday Morning Cinema: it’s his fourth long player and it sounds like the work of someone who has developed a great interest in connecting with his listeners – and that requires honing your songs so that their meaning is always clear, and performing in a way that brings them fully to life.

Parsons has a great baritone voice that recalls James Taylor at his best, and the style of the songs does suggest that era of American songwriting (no bad thing) as well as some laidback West Coast country rock. The songs are so well written that nothing should get in their way, and accordingly the production on Sunday Morning Cinema is sparse without being spare. Steel guitar is given a prominent role (as it should be) but never competes with Parson’s voice, which brings us the many colours and shades in these songs.

Parsons is clearly a storyteller and he has created an album that delivers nine stories, all with their beginnings, middles and ends. This is an album for those who like their music intelligent and thoughtfully made; you can listen to this album over and over and it will always bring you something new each time. You can also simply close your eyes and let Parsons’s baritone call you closer, getting nearer to the centre of his story with each note.
Sunday Morning Cinema is out now.

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity

The album launch show will be at Northcote Social Club in Melbourne on 2 September. Tickets here.

www.danparsonsmusic.com

Album review: Back to Broken Hill by Libby O’Donovan

libbyThose 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.

Apple Music | iTunes

libbyodonovan.com

 

Album review: Easy, Sleazy and Greazy by Andrea Colburn & Mud Moseley

greazyOn 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.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | iTunes | Amazon

andreaandmud.com

 

Album review: Twilight on the Trail by Jen Mize & Mark Sholtez

Twilight_ON_The_Trail.jpgAustralian 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).

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