Take 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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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.
Buy Violet Road on Bandcamp or iTunes.
Sydney Americana artist Sam Newton has released a poignant new single, ‘Hold You Down’, that seems to have a few stories within its lyrics, which makes it worth repeated listening. Newton claims influences from Paul Kelly and Townes van Zandt, amongst others, but this song stands on its own – no influence necessary.
Listen to it on Soundcloud or watch the video below.