The word ‘treasure’ gets bandied about a bit, particularly in the Australian vernacular: ‘she’s a treasure’, ‘national treasure’, ‘pleasure, treasure’. That’s not to say that it isn’t meant sincerely every time, but it’s a reason to say that when using it in the case of singer-songwriter Felicity Urquhart, it is deeply, truly meant. Urquhart is a country music treasure, and she is treasured by many. Her singing, songwriting and instrumental abilities are extraordinary; her generosity of heart and spirit is endless. To be in her audience is to experience joy, every single time. She is a supporter of other artists through her role on Saturday Night Country on ABC radio. She is a valued collaborator, most notably in the band Bennett Bowtell & Urquhart.
Last year Urquhart released her latest album, Frozen Rabbit. Not long afterwards her husband, Glen Hannah, who was also the album’s producer, died suddenly. That might suggest an extra layer of poignancy to her latest single, ‘Speck of Dust’, but that would also suggest that Urquhart doesn’t already infuse her songs with nuances and textures that are discovered with repeated listening.
Says Urquhart of the song, ‘In these unusual times I have felt a myriad of emotions like everyone. Thank goodness for the core thread of love and friendship to see us through these challenges. I wrote this song with a dear friend, Jeremy Edwards, posing questions about our existence and how small we really are in the big picture.’
The song is thoughtful and thought-provoking, and it’s also uplifting. These are actually hallmarks of Urquhart’s songs, from the start of her career: she has never shied away from exploring the sharp angles of life, while also offering her listener beauty. Or perhaps the beauty is in that exploration.
The song’s release was accompanied by a beautifully shot video which shows various aspects of The Australian landscape.
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There are several artists in Australian country music who have a range of skills and roles. Felicity Urquhart has more than most: she is an extraordinary singer and songwriter as a solo artist and also as a member of Bennett Bowtell & Urquhart, and she’s the host of Saturday Night Country on ABC Radio – and there’s more besides, as you will find out. Felicity is also an artist who can conjure and convey joy every time you see her play – she is electric and inspiring, no matter which song she’s singing. It’s appropriate, therefore, that the first single from her new album was ‘Chain of Joy’ – and with the album, Frozen Rabbit, about to be released, it’s an honour to have had the chance to talk to her and to learn more about this singular artist and her incredible career.
Congratulations on your new single, ‘Chain of Joy’, which I saw you perform at your Tamworth show. At that show you mentioned that the writing of it was inspired in part by your daughters. What do they think of the song?
It’s just Mum and Dad playing another song and it’s just another one they love to sing and they don’t look at it like we look at things at this point in their little young lives. I suppose it’s just another fun song that they like to sing around the house and they do request their favourites, but at the moment it’s all part of the Mum and Dad pot mix of music.
I hope to one day they realise how lucky they are to have their lullaby singers actually be professionals.
[Laughs] Harmony James was working on her new album with Glen [Hannah], my husband, and she had the sweetest comment to say one night after she heard us singing the kids to sleep. We often play a little ukulele and sing a song to them. And she said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the sweetest thing’, and she got all caught up in the moment. She said, ‘That’s the loveliest thing you guys do.’ We said, ‘Well, that’s what we do. We just grab an instrument, sing to them and read a book, and it’s our little ritual.’ But it is whatever is the norm, I suppose. And for the kids, Mum and Dad’s friends play instruments and write songs and they get involved with it too. They’ve written songs already and they get out busking and they’ve done four Tamworth festivals now and there only six and eight. So they don’t know anything different. When other kids don’t play they probably think, Oh, you don’t play?
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Felicity Urquhart is woven into the thread of Australian country music, as an acclaimed, awarded and beloved singer and songwriter; as the host of ABC Radio’s ‘Saturday Night Country’, and as a member of the extraordinary outfit that is Bennett, Bowtell & Urquhart. She is the winner of seven Golden Guitars as a solo artist (and BBU have won three), and has several albums to her name; she has also been nominated for an ARIA and won the CMA International Broadcaster award.
Between broadcasting, BBU and parenting, however, it has been a while since Urquhart released an LP (there was an EP about three years ago, produced for her Tamworth show), so there will be many people looking forward to Frozen Rabbit on 26 April 2019. In the meantime, we can enjoy ‘Chain of Joy’, the first single. Co-written with the wonderful Kim Richey, the song is a lovely ode to the many joys to be found in daily life. Urquhart has always been able to balance light and dark beautifully, so this is not a song so sweet that it will set your teeth on edge – in Urquhart’s nuanced, honeyed voice, it seems to suggest that these daily joys can be hard won and should be appreciated.
And while everything BBU does is a delight, it is wonderful to have new music by Urquhart alone, with the promise of more to come.
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Pre-order Frozen Rabbit: https://abcmusic.lnk.to/FrozenRabbit
Felicity Urquhart’s last record, My Life, was a very appealing collection of ‘pretty’ (not a pejorative) pop-country songs and some more rocking material. It was a very good record, but in light of her most recent release, Landing Lights, it’s clear that My Life was Felicity doing what was expected of a country music singer-songwriter at that point of her career in Australia (or the US) – because, while there was a lot to like on MyLife, Landing Lights is a superior album.
Landing Lights is a satisfyingly eclectic gathering of songs that Urquhart has co-written with one usual suspect (Randy Scruggs) and some new co-conspirators. Karl Broadie’s fingerprints are all over ‘So Go On’ – an up-tempo toe tapper that has me smiling every time I hear it – while Kim Richey brings her melancholy bent (and some vocals) to ‘All Good Fun’. The unexpected collaborators include Nick Barker and Michael Spiby; the tunes co-written with Barker, ‘Two Wheels’ and ‘Bed & Breakfast’, are undoubtedly the ‘tougher’ songs on the album. Urquhart’s two co-writes with Robert Lee Castleman, ‘Little Cricket’ and ‘Time for a Change’, are complex, delicate and dark songs. The title track is a masterpiece of wistfulness and yearning.
There are only two ‘radio songs’ – ‘Girl in the Mall’, written with Mark Seymour, and ‘Ernie’s Daughter’- but I only call them that because they fallen some melodic and lyric conventions that will appeal to the traditional country music listenership.
Through all the different styles of songs – the tales of life, love and loss – soars Urquhart’s beautiful voice. When I first saw her play live I couldn’t get over how amazing that voice is, and couldn’t understand why more people didn’t know about it.
Landing Lights is more than the sum of its very fine parts. While I find myself listening more to the sweet-melodied songs – coincidentally, the even-numbered tracks – there’s not a single song on this CD I don’t like. The album is the mark of a confident, talented performer and songwriter who should find a big, big audience.