Category: shane nicholson

CD review: Bad Machines by Shane Nicholson

By the time Shane Nicholson released Bad Machines, I’d become hooked on his voice – it has a soothing quality that means that even if I’m not listening to all the words he’s singing, I feel somewhat lulled into a nice, cosy state of being. Which is not to suggest that his lyrics are all hearts and flowers; they’re not.

The standout track on this album – for me, at least – is ‘The Broken Things’. It’s spare and a little creepy, but also reassuring. Our narrator may ‘like all the broken things’ but there’s also a sense that he likes them because he can fix them. When I saw Shane play at Notes Live in Sydney earlier this year, he said that he’d asked his wife, Kasey Chambers, to record a guide vocal for the harmony on the track, with the intention of turning it over to Sheryl Crow to sing. Except Sheryl – with whom he toured the US a few years ago – never answered his emails, so Kasey is who we hear on the record. These two have been singing together so well for so long now that it’s hard to imagine how Shane would have thought anyone else could have suited the song.

‘The Broken Things’ is atypical of the album, which sees Shane planting his boots firmly in the country camp. This is a natural evolution from 2008’s Familar Ghosts, although sometimes it seems there’s hardly a trace of the Shane Nicholson who created It’s a Movie in 2004. That’s good and fitting, though – this man is no musical slouch, and one can hardly expect him to keep doing the same thing over and over.

So Bad Machines is generally an upbeat, up-tempo country/roots collection of songs, with some lyrics that are kinda silly and others that display his hallmark ability to break the listener’s heart. I can’t say that it’s my favourite album of Shane’s, but I listen to it a lot anyway. I’ve realised that I’ll buy any CD that he releases, because every single one of his solo albums (and Rattlin’ Bones, for that matter) is fantastic – it’s just that some are more fantastic than others.

Shane Nicholson, Bad Machines (Essence/Liberation, 2011)
Also available on iTunes

CD review: Familiar Ghosts by Shane Nicholson

I should have reviewed this album in 2008 but better late than never …

When Kasey Chambers married Shane Nicholson, I’d barely heard of him; the cynical amongst us might suggest that we would never have heard of him otherwise anyway, but I refuse to believe that, because Shane is one of the greatest singer-songwriters and performers working today. He is hugely talented and quietly understated, two qualities which are prevalent in the 2008 release Familiar Ghosts.

Shane plays all the instruments on this album, but it doesn’t sound like a cobbled-together track-by-track effort. The songs are, necessarily, not as noisome as those on his first two solo albums, It’s a Movie and Faith and Science, which were full-band efforts, but they are no less complete and, sometimes, complex as songs.

As I’m fond of a slightly sad, if not wistful, ballad, my two favourite songs are the melancholy ‘Summer Dress’ (which Shane has said started off as a murder ballad and then turned into a missing-girl ballad) and the somewhat nihilistic ‘Long Time Coming’. They are the most down-tempo songs on the album, though, and that probably says more about my tastes than Shane’s songwriting inclinations.

Certainly, there is plenty of rock and groove here (‘Who’s At Your Window’, ‘Easy Now’), and some up-tempo tunes too (‘Where the Water Goes’, ‘God and Elvis’). It’s a well-rounded collection and a nice segue from Shane’s two earlier albums to his latest, Bad Machines. It’s an album I keep going back to, as are all Shane’s albums, as there’s always something else to find there.

Shane Nicholson, Familiar Ghosts (Essence/Liberation, 2008)
Now available on iTunes

The Chambers-Nicholson roadshow at Penrith Panthers

I don’t live anywhere near Penrith Panthers, but I was prepared to take the trip in order to see Kasey Chambers play with her husband, Shane Nicholson, and father, Bill Chambers, on Saturday 14 June. It was so very, very worth it – starting with the fact that I’d somehow ended up with front-row seats!

Shane and Bill opened the evening as a duo, alternating the lead role – Shane sang one of his songs, Bill did one of his own, and so on. My band buddy loved Bill; I preferred Shane’s stuff. But the band buddy is a folkie – she appreciated Bill’s grizzled ol’ troubadour style.

After a short break they reappeared with Kasey, who was recovering from a cold but singing beautifully regardless. It was a real treat to have an all-acoustic show featuring Bill’s array of stringed and steeled instruments as well as Kasey’s trusty guitar – the beauty of Kasey’s songwriting was exposed. I’ve long felt that Kasey is one of Australia’s greatest songwriters; the test of a good song is usually when it’s played in a stripped-down fashion, and her songs were all revealed as very good indeed.

Kasey likes to chat between songs, and she is endearing and funny and warm. At one stage she made a remark about how her voice must be very hard to put up with for audience members who’d been dragged along to the show. It didn’t seem like a disingenuous remark – she obviously knows that some people don’t like her voice (I know a few) and is at ease enough with herself to not care. What was most interesting about the show – for me, at least – was how the lack of instrumental adornment allowed her to really push that voice and showcase its range. Her voice is fundamentally a very powerful instrument with beautiful timbre, propelled by a mighty set of lungs.

The absolute highlight of the show was an impromptu version of ‘Paper Aeroplane’ (from Wayward Angel). The recorded version of the song features only Kasey and a guitar. On this night Kasey announced that they’d found a piano backstage, which meant she could perform the song in its original form – something she doesn’t often get to do. Shane played the piano; Kasey stood, so still and without her guitar, and sang. The song tells the story of an elderly man whose wife of 62 years has died; the lyrics alone are enough to touch any listener. But it wouldn’t have mattered what Kasey was singing about – I’ve rarely seen anyone sing so directly from the heart, and the notes that welled up from her seemed to have every single person in the audience in tears. Just a girl and piano, but what an extraordinary musical event.

Other high points were a song performed by the Dead Ringer Band – Kasey’s mum and brother, Nash, appeared as Shane exited stage left – and the opportunity for the audience to request tracks from Rattlin’ Bones, and actually have the requests played. But I was one of the successful requesters (asking for ‘Wildflower’) so maybe it was only a highlight for me …

Kasey said that the Sydney State Theatre show in August will be half acoustic and half a band show – if it’s half as good as the Panthers show, it will be an amazing night.

Kasey and Shane: there aren’t enough words

I’ve been slack on the posting front, mainly due to the fact that I spent the month of May just working working working. I missed the Orphanage sessions for the month, and I’ll miss this month’s too. But I have been in raptures since I took delivery of my signed copy of Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson‘s Rattlin’ Bones. This is one hell of an album and it just gets better and better with each listening. Kasey and Shane’s voices sound like they were made for each other, although I imagine they get a lot of chances to practise their harmonies!

The balance of tracks – rough and smooth, sad and happy, rip roaring and mellow – is just right. It’s hard to think of a way they could improve on it, really. Even better, they’re hitting the road and I’ve got my ticket to the Penrith Panthers show …

Now, can EMI explain why Shane’s solo CDs are no longer available in this country? Anyone who wants them has to order them from Amazon.