Saturday, December 8, 2007

CD Review: The McClymonts

The McClymonts have been called 'Australia's answer to the Dixie Chicks' and that's a compliment - to the Dixie Chicks. The two groups have much in common, quite apart from the fact that they both feature sisters (all the McClymonts are, unsurprisingly, siblings while the Dixie Chicks have sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire) and an ability to harmonise beautifully. Both groups are rarities in country music, where it's difficult to find a band that has more than one woman - three is noteworthy. Both groups have the knack of producing albums that can capture a pop audience and which are an entertainment, which is in no way a pejorative label. But they differ here: the McClymonts' Chaos and Bright Lights is a much more polished album than anything the Dixie Chicks produced before Home.

The McClymonts are three sisters from Grafton, NSW: Samantha, Mollie and Brooke. They're already Golden Guitar veterans, having taken home 2007 awards for Best New Talent and Best Group or Duo, and Samantha won for Best New Talent in 2006 (after taking out the Starmaker title in 2005). Their 2006 EP, The McClymonts (Universal), was a very nice collection of songs, especially the opening song, 'Something That My Heart Does'. On first hearing Chaos and Bright Lights (Universal) I was a bit concerned that they hadn't matched the quality of that EP but - silly me! - I shouldn't have put it on in the background. Because, after about three close listens, I was hooked.

Chaos and Bright Lights is a delight. It has a well-balanced collection of tunes in major and minor key (although tending towards major, which is perhaps why listening to it makes me happy) and while the lyrics contain nothing wildly new, they're clever and heartfelt and sharp in the right places. This is country done as pop and it's so, so satisfying. After seeing the band perform at the Country Jamm 4 Genes earlier this year and getting shivers up my spine because their voices sounded so amazing together, the harmony-laden tracks on the album did not disappoint me - these gals have clearly been singing together for years, so effortlessly do they complement and match each other.

Am I gushing? Well, they deserve it. From the ripper opening track and single, 'My Life Again', through the bittersweetness of 'Don't Tie My Hands', the defiance of 'Good Cry' and 'Finally Over Blue', and the honkytonkness of 'You Were Right' and 'Ghost Town', there is plenty of scope for the McClymonts to showcase their talents. 'Favourite Boyfriend of the Year' recalls Beccy Cole at her cheekiest, while 'Till You Love Me' and 'Shotgun' are just lovely songs.

Chaos and Bright Lights has obviously benefited from the production by Adam Anders, who has a songwriting credit on several tracks. But it's the McClymonts themselves who have the bulk of the credits, and personally I like to know that artists I love are also getting publishing royalties ...

In conclusion: don't be fooled into thinking this album is all harmonies and light. There's a lot on it to love for country music fans of all flavours, and I'll certainly be listening to it over and over and over again, singing along and smiling all along the New England Highway heading for Tamworth 2008. I just wish the band would play in Sydney more often ...

Friday, December 7, 2007

The GG nominations

Nominations for the 2008 Golden Guitars have been announced and there are some usual suspects - not that they don't deserve the nominations, but personally I was hoping for more than one nod for Karl Broadie. Never mind ... a few different nominations for Beccy Cole kept me happy, and it's always good to see Troy Cassar-Daley's name amongst the finalists (and winners). My new favourites, The McClymonts, only had one nomination but I'm hoping that's because Chaos and Bright Lights wasn't out in time to make the Album of the Year category. And I'll say more about them soon ...

All in all, though, the list of finalists is a testament to the strength of the industry - it was a year for albums from most of the 'biggies' and that's a lot of competition for some of the younger performers, so hats off to Kirsty Lee Akers, Amber Lawrence, Travis Collins and Dianna Corcoran.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Patty Griffin + Karl Broadie = a perfect night

The Patty Griffin/Karl Broadie roadshow is drawing to a close, and the dynamic duo turned on a fantastic last Sydney gig at the Factory in Enmore. I'll say more about Karl separately, another day, but ooooooh Patty! I was lucky enough to see her at the Basement too, but the Factory gig was the one. More epiphanies than a revival meeting and more joy than a Christmas carol - and not just because she played some of my favourite songs ('Making Pies', 'Useless Desires', 'Truth No 2' as well as her version of Springsteen's 'Stolen Car'). Like Karl, Patty looks completely at home on stage and completely happy to be there - so, of course, we're happy to watch her. It's rare to see musicians look happy on stage, and I always wonder why - since they love music so much, why aren't they in bliss? I always thought Ani di Franco was the happiest, but again I say ooooooh Patty. I defy anyone to say that music isn't a spiritual practice after a night like that.

On a purely technical level: the timbre and her control of her voice is extraordinary. For someone who doesn't really look like she's getting deep into the lungs, she has a lot of power. No doubt she could just sing - without any guitar or accompaniment of any sort - and it would still be a transcendent experience for the witnesses.

Hallelujah and hail Patty Griffin.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Has Keith Urban jumped the shark?

I have only seen Keith Urban play live once – at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney about three years ago. I think. Well, before Nicole. It was sublime. By then I was already in love with Be Here as an album and Keith as a performer, but seeing him live just made it all the more exquisite. That man could work a stage like no one I had seen since Chris Cornell fronting Soundgarden (token rock ’n’ roll references are allowed) and everyone was in thrall to him. And what was not to love about Be Here? Killer singles – ‘She’s Gotta Be’ is one of the finest pop/country/rock songs of recent times – and a well-balanced collection of tunes. There was love, loss, addiction, joy and spirituality, and it was all so COOL.

Then he got married.

Then there was Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing. Now, he still has the melody-writing chops. But the lyrics leave me cold. Plus I think he wrote less on this album than he did on Be Here. He’s tame – or, at least, he seems tame. The spit and fire have gone out of him. In other words: he has jumped the shark. I still listen to this album, but not as much as I’m still listening to Be Here. I miss Cool Keith. I want Cool Keith back. The big question for those of us who thought that Be Here heralded a golden age of Keithness is: does Cool Keith still exist? Certainly, his guitar duel with John Butler at the 2007 ARIAs indicated that there might be something there, and that others are starting to see it. But just because John Butler thinks he’s cool now doesn’t mean he’s thinking that the right Keith is cool.

Only the next album could tell us how he was travelling. And, unsurprisingly, it's a greatest hits package. Sigh.

Cool Keith: come home.

(Opinions expressed above have NOTHING to do with the fact that I was planning to be Mrs Urban.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What's to come

As far as I can tell, there's no Australian country music blog. (Or if there is, please tell me! I want to read it.) I was itching to have a space where I could write about CDs, gigs, musicians and other country music folks; to share the great joy that's to be found in country music songs and the Australian country music scene. I'll occasionally write about people from overseas, but generally there will be a lot about Kasey Chambers, Karl Broadie, Beccy Cole, Troy Cassar-Daley, The McClymonts and Keith Urban - for starters. Hopefully it will all be interesting; sometimes it may not be to your taste - so tell me. Country music fans are passionate and dedicated, so I'm prepared to defend my positions against all comers :)