Category: fanny lumsden

Album review: Small Town Big Shot by Fanny Lumsden

Fanny Lumsden lives in Sydney now but originally hails from western New South Wales – from, as she sings in the opening line of her opening song, ‘Bravest of Hearts’, ‘a long line of farming families’. So when she sings about the land, it’s no surprise that her voice conjures up summer heat across paddocks, long country roads with nary another car in sight and the way the Australian sky looks as it stretches away to the horizon and into this country’s ancient heart, bigger than seems reasonable or even possible.

Small Town Big Shot is, in part, an album of stories about what happens when big dreams don’t fit a small-town life, and what can be done about that. It’s also an album that wouldn’t have been created without its creator’s own big dreams about telling stories to a whole lot of people, and Lumsden seems to intrinsically understand her role as a storyteller. She understands how to structure a song so that its story is told properly. She understands how to sing in such a way that the listener will pay attention and feel the emotion she’s conveying, whether it’s whimsy, wonder, disappointment, sadness or love. She also knows how to entertain.

Lumsden bills herself as ‘alt country’ and it’s not for me to quibble with that. All I’ll say is that to me Small Town Big Shot sounds country-country, in that Lumsden is clearly educated in the structure, sounds and instrumentation of ‘traditional’ country songs, mainly of the Australian variety. It’s not inconceivable that one could draw a line from Joy McKean to Lumsden – McKean knows how to tell a story straight, grab the listener’s attention and make them feel something, and Lumsden has the same set of skills.

Small Town Big Shot makes me tap my toes and also want to have a quiet weep in the corner. It has humour and pathos. It evokes places and people, with compassion and clarity. It’s also an album about the land written by a woman who knows her subject intimately and who can write about it meaningfully. We don’t have a lot of those sorts of songs, and the canon of Australian country music is unbalanced without them (although when they come, they’re spectacular, as in the work of Harmony James and Sara Storer). In this way Lumsden adds something important to country music as a whole. That’s not to say that you should buy this album because it’s worthy – that’s just a benefit. It’s simply a great album, Lumsden is a rare talent and these songs should be heard far and wide. 

Small Town Big Shot is out now.

Interview: Fanny Lumsden

Hailing from the wilds of inner Sydney – but originally from further-flung parts – Fanny Lumsden and her band the Thrillseekers bring a new approach to ‘old-time’ country on their EP Autumn Lawn, which is out now.  Fanny answered my interview questions via email. 

1.       How does a girl from Surry Hills channel the sounds of open spaces and open roads?

Well I grew up on a farm near Weethalle in the northern Riverina and we spent a lot of time on the road growing up as it takes a while to get anywhere. I went to Uni in Armidale and only moved to Surry Hills 2 years ago. I still spend a lot of time in the ‘open spaces’ as I go out home or down to Khancoban about once a month to work on the farm for a week at a time. So I’m travelling a lot. I find when I’m travelling I am the most inspired and do much more writing than when I’m in one spot.
I find the songs I write when I’m in the city are often themed around space and the country. I’ts definitely the lack of space that makes me channel it into my music.

2. Your sound verges on ‘old-timey’ country – is this the sort of music you like to listen to?
I listen to a fair range of music but I would have to say that ‘old timey’ country , folk and jazz like Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and  Ella Fitzgerald, are definitely high on the list. I grew up mostly listening to Classical (my mum), playschool music and bits of Slim Dusty and Smokey Dawson (Dad) and it wasn’t really until late primary school/high school that I started getting into country music. Kasey Chambers, Dixie Chicks etc.
Now days I listen to a lot of folk, alt country and a lot of current touring artists like Justin Townes Earle and  Kitty Daisy & Lewis. There is so much great music coming out in Australia at the moment and they are mostly first on my listening list.

3.       Have you played or written other sorts of songs in the past (i.e. from other genres) or have you always been a country girl?

I started out writing country songs when I was in early high school (they were terrible, I can assure you) but started leaning towards the more folkier/indie pop-ish in my late teens. I think I am back where I started in the genre sense but miles and miles away in the song writing skill level sense.

4. It’s hard to get around this country to tour when it’s just one person and a guitar – how many stars need to align for all of you to be able to go on the road?

Oh yeah it’s a fair shuffle to get six of us and all the necessary gear from place to place but my band the Thrillseekers are fantastic. We all just make each trip as raucous and fun as possible and that way it’s more of a memorable trip away.  They are also very trusting as most of the band grew up in the city and I have taken them to all sorts of places including our Floodraiser country hall tour, where we played in country halls throughout the Riverina. They all stayed with my family and learnt to drive a tractor, shoot a gun, ride a horse and crack a whip! That trip I think the tour gods definitely had their hands on the gates holding everything at bay! We actually filmed it for our ‘Firing Line’ clip and it has just been released on Rage and just about to be aired on CMC.

4.       You’ve played in a few different venues and festivals – how has your music been received?

I have been thrilled … yes, thrilled with the reception so far… it’s always hard to tell before we play as we are so often genre hopping and switching demographics from country halls to inner city laneway stages to creative festivals. We just go out and have a really good time on stage and hope the crowd gets up and gets into it. In the short time we have been playing together we have played some really terrific gigs where the crowds yip and cheer and have a regular hoedown. Its been really interesting bringing ‘country’ to the city, as the crowds may more often than not have country a little way down their listening lists, but they seem to be getting in to it! The themes and overall vibe maybe something they have never experienced before so that can often be the appeal.  

6. What sorts of thrills do the Thrillseekers go looking for?
A wide range, I would say, from playing to a room full to the brim with elderly folk to having bras thrown at them from the audience (that has oddly happened but not by the elderly crowd). Coming up with reports on Synchronised Wwimming competitions which they reveal on stage, to coming up with as many Fanny puns as possible during soundcheck (the sound guy initially is a little dubious but rolls with the punches after about the first four or so). The options are endless, really. I will also say they I think they are seeking the thrill of world domination – one banjo and pony guitar at a time.

7. What sorts of thrills are you looking for as you launch your EP and play shows in support of it?
The kind where you are not sure which way the creature came from! The thrill of sharing my songs and stories with all the people that will listen. The thrill of meeting new people and the driving part – I’m actually really excited about getting out as I’ve been in the city over a month now and it’s starting to make me itch. We are playing in Adelaide for the first time, so that will definitely rate high on the thrill list … It’s been hard work getting this all together and I will just be thrilled if the lanterns stay up, the turf lays out straight and the fine folk that come along to the launches have a hoot of a time. It will also be a thrill if we sell a truck load of EPs. 😉 

Find Fanny online on Facebook. Autumn Lawn is out now.