Category: sam newton

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.

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Album review: Violet Road by Sam Newton

Longing is something most of us experience but it’s not often given that name. We miss, we want, we desire, we lack. What we rarely admit to – perhaps because we can’t identify the emotion given that we rarely speak its name – is longing. And if we can’t name it, we can’t describe it either.

Sydney singer-songwriter Sam Newton knows how to describe and depict longing: the opening tracks of his new album, Violet Road, are laced with it. Newton sounds as if he is longing for an experience that is perhaps recently or distantly past, one that’s lingering within him. And along with that longing is its close companion, yearning. Both of these states of being can seem overly earnest – even twee, perhaps – but Newton is not sentimental, and, therefore, the emotions in his music are authentic and appropriate, and they never last longer than necessary. This suggests that Newton has a very good grasp of the concept of restraint. He doesn’t indulge himself – the song contains what it needs to, and no more. Which is not to say that the songs on Violet Road are sparse: they are lean where they should be, and at other times they’re fleshed out with some wonderful steel guitar or fiddle.

Nor is the album a collection of tunes in a minor key – because Newton understands what a song needs, the musical mood always fits what’s in the lyrics. The musical style is country and folk, and often traditional in nature. These are songs that belong in a lineage; they wouldn’t sound out of place on a town hall stage somewhere in a country town in 1950, yet there are also elements that are purely contemporary: at times it’s not hard to imagine Newton standing on a suburban Sydney footpath, under a crescent moon, serenading the sky and whoever happens to pass him by. These are evocative songs that seem simple in construction yet come with layers of meaning. And if Newton knows how to put longing into his songs, he also knows how to leave you longing for them in turn.

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Buy Violet Road on Bandcamp or iTunes.

Album review: Set in Stone by Sam Newton

To say – on this blog, at least – that an album sounds ‘old fashioned’ doesn’t mean that it sounds tired, or out of its time, or daggy [for non-Australian readers, this word may not make sense]. It means that it sounds like its creator has put himself into a particular mindset: when stories were sung around campfires, to a small circle of listeners who paid attention and could see the singer’s emotions written on his face as well as hear them in his voice. These sung stories had to do a lot of work, as they do now, but they couldn’t rely on a producer or engineer to make them sound prettier. They had to do the job there and then. They had to have intent, and guts, and substance; their performer had to be confident enough to deliver them while also humble enough to understand that he served them, not the other way around.


‘Old fashioned’ can also mean honouring a lineage: the singer-songwriter has listened to a lot of music in his time, has let it seep into his awareness of what it is to write a song and then sing it. He honours that lineage and delivers it to a new audience. Lineages are living things. Some people deny they have them – they want to be ‘original’, to be new. Smart performers know that we all formed by what came before us, and it’s the way you honour the lineage that’s new.

An ‘old-fashioned’ album can also be one that makes the listener feel sentimental – the way the songs are sung makes you think of lazy summer days after school has broken up for the year and there is nothing but time and heat between you and the new year; or days when rain traps you inside and you potter around listening to music, wanting something that is a comfortable companion but which doesn’t put you to sleep. Something to make a cup of tea to, or to sit on a bottle of whiskey with.

So when I say that Sam Newton’s Set in Stone is old fashioned, that is what I mean.

Set in Stone is available now. You can buy it from samnewton.bandcamp.com.