Friday, November 6, 2015

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.

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