Sunday, October 30, 2011

Interview: Timothy Carroll (part I)

In 2008 Brisbane-based musician Timothy Carroll released an extraordinary album called For Bread & Circuses (available from iTunes and also here). It's not a country album but it has some country elements, so for classification purposes I thought I could slip Timothy into this blog - also because it's my blog and I can what I want (so there!), and because I believe him to be an incredibly talented singer-songwriter who deserves to be widely known.

In 2010 Timothy released an EP called The Deepest Dive, and he's also made the demo tapes for his next album available for download only, under the title The Swedish Tapes (as he was living in Sweden when they were made). If these demos are any indication, the album - which is to be recorded soon - will be amazing.

Timothy kindly agreed to be interviewed by telephone, and as he gave me quite a bit of his time this is a fairly long interview that will be split into parts. I found him to be as interesting and thoughtful as his music suggests, and it was a great thrill to talk to him.

Timothy Carroll and his band will be playing a residency on Wednesday nights in November at the Joynt in Brisbane, from the 9th.

When did you start singing?

I’ve pretty much always sung. Even the preschool I went to, the woman who ran that had a guitar and I always really loved it when she would play guitar … She used to play old Beatles songs and stuff. So I’ve always sung and I used to sing in the car with my family, like old Blues Brothers songs. So it’s always been something that I’ve done and enjoyed.

Listening to you sing, I could swear you have perfect pitch – do you know if you do?

Well, I’m not very musical in the sense of knowing what notes are what. I haven’t got much musical training at all – I can’t read music on a staff or anything. And if someone told me to sing a certain note I couldn’t do it. I’m not too bad at just hitting the notes that I want to hit. But lately I’ve been writing some stuff up in the high registers and finding it a bit more challenging, maybe because I’m getting a bit older … I have to be a bit more careful about not drinking and smoking beforehand ... I do have a few things that I do before I sing – I very rarely eat before I sing. But that’s more because I’m nervous and I just don’t feel like eating.

Do you do a lot of three-set gigs?

I very rarely have done three-set gigs – more one set – and I do believe in the kind of less-is-more approach to performance. I usually like to do fairly short sets and not give people time to get bored.

Given that you started singing quite young, is your voice your preferred instrument, as opposed to a guitar?

Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. The guitar is just a medium for finding melodies and for accompanying singing. Because I’m not that handy on the guitar, and I picked up the guitar much later, when I was about sixteen. So I just play the guitar to give myself something to sing to, I guess.

So when you’re writing songs, do you tend to sing them out first to compose, or do you use the guitar to compose?

I use the guitar to compose. Usually I’ll find a couple of little progressions or melody lines. Lately if I’m just noodling on the guitar I’ll record little sections on my phone or something, just so I don’t forget ideas. And then I’ll also work through a little bit further into a whole progression into a song without any lyrics. And then I’ll sing ad libbing and record big, huge, long versions of the song – like, fifteen- or twenty-minute long versions – and then I go back and find little fragments that are good or that could be fleshed out, and then cut it right back down to something about normal length – three to five minutes.

On The Swedish Tapes some of the songs are a bit more epic sounding, like ‘Where the Catholics Ruled’, and those songs could sound like the fragment of an epic track.

I definitely have made a bit of a conscious move in a new direction, in the way that I’m writing at the moment and the people who I’m collaborating with, which is exciting. My first record [For Bread & Circuses], I didn’t really go into it thinking, ‘I want to make a record that sounds like this’. I just had these songs and the only thing I knew how to do was to play like that and to collaborate with people who played the other instruments on my first record, which ended up being fairly folk/countryish, and I’m really proud of that piece of work and I really enjoyed making it. But with this one [to be recorded soon] I have had more of a thought about what I’d like to be doing and some different influences and it’s exciting to be pushing out into a new direction and working with some different people and I’m looking forward to re-recording those tracks, because those [The Swedish Tapes] were the demos that were done really roughly in my apartments in Stockholm and Berlin.

You say that they’re rough, but they don’t sound rough – they sound like fantastic tracks.

Thank you. I guess from my point of view most of them were recorded with one crappy mike and it’s not even a vocal mike, somebody had a T-shirt over it. And also some of the drums are not live drums, they’re programmed drums. So it’s just meant to be a platform to explore an idea and get a sense of what the song could be, and then it’ll be really nice to record it live with the whole band playing together and feeding off each other and stuff.

In terms of changing genre - for lack of a better term – it can sometimes be tricky if you have an audience for one kind of music and then you move in a different direction. But you’re an independent artist - you’ve put out everything yourself, and you don’t have a record company telling you what to do - so I guess that gives you the freedom to change.

Yeah, I do have complete freedom to do what I like, which is awesome. And I’m aware that there will be an element that the people who have previously enjoyed my records might not enjoy this one as much, but I don’t really mind about that. They can continue listening to the old records. It’s obvious, I guess, that I just want to make music that excites me and that I feel really good about and that I’m excited to play and perform and things like that. So I’m feeling good about the new record.

Part 2 of this interview will be published soon.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

CD review: Storybook by Kasey Chambers

It look me quite a while to love this album - about ten listens, I reckon. That was probably because it's not an album of Kasey's original songs, but it's still her, and now I love it all the same.

Storybook is a collection of new and old recordings of other people's songs - if you're a die-hard fan who's bought all of Kasey's singles and EPs, you're going to have her versions of Cyndi Lauper's 'True Colours', Paul Kelly's 'Everything's Turning to White', James McMurtry's 'Too Long in the Wasteland', Patty Griffin's 'Top of the World' and and Fred Eaglesmith's 'Water in the Fuel'. But you won't have the newer recordings, which are actually more impressive than the earlier efforts because this album clearly shows us how Kasey has matured and improved as a singer. She is a strong singer who can also reveal vulnerability in the turn of a note - as she does in her version of Suzanne Vega's 'Luka', 'Everything's Turning to White' and Matthew Ryan's 'Guilty'. Interestingly, while the lyrics of 'Orphan Girl', a Gillian Welch tune, suggest vulnerability, there isn't much to be heard in Kasey's voice - perhaps because she's singing it with her husband, Shane Nicholson - or, maybe, to him.

Shane is one of several musical guests on the album. Jimmy Barnes is almost unrecognisable in his lower register on the Townes van Zandt song 'If I Needed You'. Paul Kelly, a previous collaborator, does not sing on the song he penned but on the Hank Williams number 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry'.

The only song I regularly skip over is the cover of John Prine's 'Leave the Lights On', but no doubt other people love it, musical taste being a subjective thing. The standout tracks for me are Gram Parsons's 'Return of the Grievous Angel', 'Luka', 'Guilty' and the Nanci Griffith track 'I Wish it Would Rain', which Kasey sings with Ashleigh Dallas. The other tracks are perfectly great, though - for the curious, there are also covers of Lucinda Williams ('Happy Woman Blues') and Steve Earle ('Nothing but a Child', sung with the Lost Dogs).

For Kasey fans, this is obviously a must. For other punters, it's a great collection of country or country-esque (or pop, in Lauper's case) songs that acts somewhat as an introduction to the genre and its range of songwriters and subjects. Kasey has always been an excellent interpreter of other people's songs, and those skills are evident here. She is one of those singers who becomes the song - she inhabits the story in the song and conveys it to her listeners. This is her job, of course, as a performer but I often reflect on the fact that very few performers understand the unspoken contract as well as she does. She understands what her audience needs, and she delivers it, without ever compromising what she loves and what she wants to do. With Storybook, that is as true as it is of everything else Kasey Chambers does.

Storybook is out now through Essence/Liberation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

CD review: Find Someone by Danny Widdicombe

What a terrific album this is. From the very first time I heard it, I was hooked - the songwriting and musicianship on it are really outstanding.

(I should state that it's not a country music album, but as it has a couple of country-tinged tracks - and given Danny's membership of the Wilson Pickers - I felt it qualified for this blog.)

Danny and his musicians explore a variety of musical styles on this album, from slightly psychedelic rock ('We All Do Better' and 'Banyan Tree') to country ('Find Someone' and 'We Could See Mars') and folky rock ('Black Magic'). There are also the ballads 'Everything's Been Done' 'Waiting for You'. There are guitars all over this album, as befits a man who is a complete master of the instrument. There is also plenty of groove and memorable hooks that make sure that the songs wedge in your head.

Lyrically, the songs explore the subjects of life, death, family, love, home and illness. Danny has recently dealt with a recurrence of the leukaemia that first appeared when he was nineteen - it is logical that he would use his music to tell stories about his experiences with illness and medical treatment, especially as he was ill while making the album, although this is not to the same extent as they were explored on his first album, The Transplant Tapes.

I hesitate to say that there is something for everyone on this album, but perhaps there is: even those who love classical music will find much to admire in Danny's skill as a musician. It's a highly accomplished piece of work that, because of its range, does offer a really varied listening experience that remains satisfying over time. Each time I listen to it I enjoy the variety of the styles and songs, almost like I don't expect it. It seems that Danny has chosen to play in a style that best suits each of his songs, and that kind of respect for music - for the craft and skill and intangible wonder of it - is so, so rewarding for anyone who truly loves music.

Find Someone by Danny Widdicombe is out now through ABC Music/Universal.

You can buy the album here.

Read the Jolene interview with Danny here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Interview: Danny Widdicombe

Danny Widdicombe has been a robust - and robustly talented - member of the Australian country music community for the last few years, playing with Karl Broadie at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, doing his own shows, forming The Wilson Pickers and playing guitar in the bands of other musicians such as Bernard Fanning and Tim Rogers.

Danny's first two albums, The Transplant Tapes and Dominoes, charted the progression of a singer-songwriter of exceptional musical talent and also with something real to say. Danny's long-term battle with leukaemia is not a secret - it was the subject of The Transplant Tapes - and it forms the background story to his latest album, Find Someone, which will be released on 21 October. Ahead of that release, Danny answered my questions by email from his Brisbane home - and he put as much into the answers as he does into his music, so I'm very grateful for his time.

1. Your albums show such a progression, not just in musical styles but in confidence and maturity as a player and songwriter. It seems like you're constantly seeking out new musical experiences and knowledge - is that the case? And, if so, how long has this been going on?

Part of the beauty of music, for me, is the evolution that you can find taking place in any songwriter or composer's career. Take the Beatles, for example, they start out copying their heroes with a certain amount of skill and success and then as they discover more and more about themselves and find more confidence in their art, their true nature starts to come out in the music. Gene Clark from the Byrds is another great example - his album No Other in 1974 is a massive departure from his early country rock explorations in the mid to late sixties. He's definitely one of my heroes.

I'm basically just a music fan and I'm genuinely excited that I get to put out records and play gigs all over Australia. Winning the GW McLennan Fellowship last year and being nominated for a couple of ARIA awards with my band The Wilson Pickers gives you the confidence that recognition brings. I've worked hard at improving my songwriting and performing since my first album and I'm not worried about sticking within a genre or format - I'm just trying to make the music I want to hear.

2. Your voice has changed a lot since The Transplant Tapes - again, it's more confident and mature. It sounds like you trust your voice a bit more - is that the case? Do you enjoy singing?

Since 2006, when The Transplant Tapes came out, I've played countless shows and made another four albums including the The WIlson Pickers material. The Transplant Tapes was made as I was recovering from a life-saving procedure that battered me physically and emotionally. Initially I wasn't prepared to release the album - just use it as a cathartic experience - but I decided to take a chance and put it out there because I thought it might help someone out there who wanted to see someone who had been cured of leukaemia. In the end there were numerous people that said that the album was a small tonic and even an inspiration in their own battles with cancer, so I'm really proud of it.

As my health improved year after year, so did my singing and guitar playing. The Transplant Tapes is what launched my 'career' as a full-time musician so from then on I was practising every day and playing every weekend. I also learned so much from my peers - especially from my Wilson Picker mates who really know how to sing. Singing in harmony all the time is a great way to find your voice. It took a while but I really do enjoy singing now.

3. Having seen you play live, I sometimes think you're a kind of guitar savant because you seem to so comprehensively meld with the instrument. How long have you been playing guitar and how often you do you play it just for your own enjoyment? What guitar do you use (electric and acoustic)? Which guitarists have influenced you?

Ha! I love the guitar. As soon as I started playing (I think I was 12) I fell in love. I remember getting home from school one day and laying on my bed with my new electric guitar. I didn't have it plugged in but the headstock resting on my wooden bed head made the entire bed vibrate with the notes I played. I realised that playing this thing had somehow transported me - almost like a form of meditation and I felt refreshed and energised at the same time. Playing still has that effect on me if the surrounds are right. I play every day at home - my poor family try and talk to me but they look in my eyes and I'm somewhere else! It's my ultimate form of relaxation and it's where my songs come from.

I play whatever guitar I'm in the mood for - at the moment I have no choice but to play a nylon string because I lost all the callouses on my fingers after my recent bout of chemo. Usually though it depends on what I've been listening to. I remember going through a huge Tony Rice phase, so I played my Martin acoustic religiously, trying to flat pick like he does, but it just ended up sounding like me. I also really love Bert Jancsh, Charlie Byrd, Bill Frisell, Bob Brozmann, Jeff Lang, Clarence White, Jimi Hendrix, JJ Cale... The list goes on and on...

4. You play covers when you perform live - as well as your own work - and you have the ability to really turn the songs inside out, pull them back to their essence and then layer yourself over the top. Do you do that with your own songs when you perform them?

Definitely. I can't stand playing the same songs the same way twice. It takes all the music out of it - especially when you're on a tour and you're playing a similar set list every night. It also depends on who's playing with you. If I'm lucky enough to be playing with my old friend Luke 'Fiddleboy' Moller, we can really mix it up. Playing with great musicians makes you play right at the top end of your game, which can give any song that extra 'something' that can make some live shows so special.

5. Find Someone is definitely not like your work with The Wilson Pickers - do you still feel an affinity for country music, or is that in a different compartment now?

I love old country music and I think you can turn most songs into a country song by using a certain instrumentation. The Wilson Pickers always made it clear that we weren't trying to replicate the great bluegrass greats such as Flatt and Scruggs, rather we were using a bluegrass-style instrumentation to get our songs across. If you played my new album live with banjo, fiddle, dobro, acoustic and double bass, sang in harmony and gave the songs a different swing, it would sound like a country outfit. The essence of the songs would still be there. I just chose to record this new album in such a way that made me happy as I was recording them - not worrying about whether they fit in any genre. Find Someone has a couple of country rock tunes but also psychedelic pop, fingerstyle folk, a blues/roots track and more. I love most styles of music and I don't mind hearing them one after the other - I've basically put a radio show together with what seems to be a random collection of tunes, but the thread running through them is that they're all my songs, all stemmed from the same influences.

6. You are a really confessional songwriter, in that it seems like your heart, thoughts and feelings are all in the songs, especially on Find Someone. You've spent a lot of time in hospital, and in hospitals it's hard to avoid everybody knowing your business. Has that sort of 'exposure' made it more natural for you to be so open in your songs - perhaps you already feel quite exposed and, thus, the songs grow out of that?

I prefer to write songs that have a story or a theme rather than just throwing a collection of words together that happen to rhyme and leaving it at that. Even when I'm writing a song from a fictional standpoint, making up a story that at first seemed to have no relevance to me, I can look inside the heart of the song and see that it is really quite autobiographical. It happens again and again. But I don't mind putting the songs out there for others because I'm proud of them and the words fit the music. I find that when people are affected by my songs it's because they've had similar experiences. Find Someone isn't out yet so I don't really know what the reaction to those songs will be but my last album Dominoes had some lyrics that dealt with my delayed depression, which apparently resulted from living with cancer for so long. Time after time, I'd find myself listening to people tell me how those particular songs hit a nerve and how much they meant to them.

I'm not sure if it's healthy or not to pour your life experience into your lyrics but it's just the way I do it, even if it's subconsciously, so I'll just keep doing it. I think being a musician comes hand in hand with the element of being exposed - standing on a stage or putting your music out for ridicule or praise even before anyone has looked at whether your lyrics expose anything to do with your personal life. For me, it's all about trying to put good songs together and then finding the best way to get them across musically. What defines 'good' and 'best' when it comes to any form of art is really up to the artist. The more musical experience I have, the more certain I am about my definitions of those terms. I think your point about being in hospital has merit, but at the end of the day for me, dealing with cancer and its treatment, although it gives you a wealth of life experience, forces you away from the momentum of creation. It gives me experience to write about but takes away the energy and tools I need to put them together in a song. This is why I was so desperate to get this new album out when I was cut down again by leukaemia - I knew it would be a long time before I was able to write another bunch of songs and who knows when I'll be ok to play them live? I'm proud to have Find Someone ready for release after such a tough run these last few months.

Find Someone is an ABC Music/Universal release. It will be launched on the 21st at The Zoo in Brisbane. Details and tickets here.

You can buy the album from the ABC Shop here.

Danny's Myspace and his ABC Music profile.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Interview: The Torchsong Country Soul Band

The Torchsong Country Soul Band first made an appearance on this blog in 2008. Since then they've been playing gigs and working away on a new album, Smalltown Love, which will be released in November. The band has been playing for seven years and has members from Sydney bands Roaring Jack's, Stolen Holdens and Perry Keyes's band.

Ahead of their album launch at the Gaelic Hotel in Sydney on 13 November, Joe Fenech (songwriter, guitarist) and Marie Byrne (singer) answered some questions for the blog.

1. I'll start with a fairly obvious question: how did you come up with the name of the band?
Joe: I grew up listening to great singers such as Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Dean Martin, Patsy Cline, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin performing killer torch songs and they have always held a special place in my heart. When I started writing my own songs I came up with one called 'Torchsong ballad country singer'. When it came time to forming and eventually naming a band I borrowed the 'Torchsong' bit and added 'country soul' because I was listening to lots of Ray Charles and The Band. who classified themselves as country soul.

2. Joe: You've written all of the songs on the album, yet you're not singing them. So do you write the songs for you/as you or do you write them with Marie in mind as the narrator?
I always wanted a great female singer for this band and when Marie found us I definitely adjusted the focus of my writing to complement her beautiful voice.

3. Joe: Contemporary country music is not usually as melancholy as the older-style tunes that arose out of the blues, yet some of your songs could be described as wistful, at the least. As a songwriter, do you find it easier to be wistful or melancholic with certain styles of music - specifically, is country music easier for that?

I'm half Greek , so maybe my wistfulness comes from the Greek Tragedy! I try to reflect all aspects of life: great joy, love, sadness, humour. The new album reflects all of these emotions.

4. Given that the members of the band all seem, first, very experienced and, second, to come from a variety of musical backgrounds, how did you all arrive at playing country music?

Joe: I wouldn't call ourselves a pure country band. We are more a hybrid of folk, alt country, blues, soul, rock and pop. We all love music and happy to do our version of those styles.

5. Marie: Country music is a bit easier on lead singers, in that they don't usually have to strain their voices to be heard over loud guitars and strenuous drums. So from a technical point of view, how singing in this band compares to any other singing you've done in the past?

You would think so. When I started out with Torchsong it was just myself, Joe and Ed, so it was pretty easy on the vocal cords. No strain needed. Over the years expanding to an eight-piece has been a bit challenging. Everything got louder and louder. There's definitely competition to be heard but on a positive side it's made my voice more powerful and I feel more confident as a performer.

6. Marie: You seem to be very much in the storytelling vein of singer - you can convey the meaning of the song through tone and nuance just as much as, if not more than, lyrics. Is this something that comes instinctually to you, or has it developed over time?
It's funny because if you asked me to introduce and explain every song before I sang one I'd be useless! I'm all about the melody and to me the melody tells the story (sorry Joe x). Joe's songwriting is beautiful. He makes it very easy as a singer. There's the rock 'n' roll challenge thrown in there, which isn't my strongest ability, but then he'll hand me an amazing new ballad or folk song and I'm butter again. My voice has developed over the years, for sure, and I now have a better understanding of what I can do justice to and also what I can't or just doesn't suit my voice. In saying that, I'm usually game for any style.

7. If you were to put together an 'ideal touring bill', which Australian country music acts would you want to have touring with you, and why?

Joe: I am a great fan of Don Walker and his solo releases are a lot more country than his work with Cold Chisel, so definitely him. I like what Dan Sultan is doing, especially live, and I have a few lovely albums by Cyndi Boste.

8. Which venues have you found to be most receptive to your music?
Joe: The Mandarin Club was great, The Lansdowne, The Cook's River Motorboat Club, The Gaelic Hotel. I find if we get a bit of publicity mostly in underground press, radio or even songwriters across Australia on TVs then we get a great crowd and the shows go off. Unfortunately the mainstream media doesn't really support independent artists.

9. Which artists (not necessarily country music) are you listening to at the moment? And which artists influence your songwriting and performing in the band?
Joe: I'm listening to the new Gillian Welch album, Raul Malo, Patty Griffin, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Wilson. My influences are Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Joe Henry, Hank Williams, Springsteen, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Cowboy Junkies, Sam Cooke, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Buddy Miller, Ryan Adams and many many more.

10. Balancing a creative life with a 'day-to-day life' can be challenging, let alone trying to book gigs and travel. Have you found it harder to make this work being a country band, as your audience is necessarily not mainly in Sydney or other large cities? How much touring have you done in rural and regional Australia?

Joe: It is very difficult with an eight-piece band when every one has a full-time job. We mostly stick to places we can get to easily, such as Katoomba, Kangaroo Valley folk fest, St Albans folk fest. We did play Tamworth but not in festival season. I know Sydney isn't know as a country-music loving crowd, but when someone puts on a few similar bands the shows are great.

11. Will you be playing at Tamworth 2012? Also, do you have any good Tamworth stories to tell (e.g. favourite gigs or audiences)?

We haven't looked into Tamworth for 2012 because all of efforts have gone into the new album. It's difficult to get up there when you are not known, because people offer you gigs where there may or may not be a PA system, offer you a sleeping bag in their backyard and can't even cover costs etc etc, The only time we did play, poor Marie woke up with no voice and we had a 30-song set list. The brave girl did her absolute best regardless of her Marge Simpson voice. What a trooper !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Torchsong Country Soul Band will launch their new album on Sunday 13 November from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at The Gaelic Hotel in Surry Hills. More information at

Country music at Marrickville Bowlo

On Saturday night I turned up at Marrickville Bowling Club in Sydney to see The Baylor Brothers - and a fine evening it was too, with many people, lots of dancing and some excellent music. I also learned that Marrickville Bowlo is hosting country music acts for the next few Saturday nights. Unfortunately the information is not on their website, so you may have to call to find out who's on, but it's great to know there's an accessible Sydney venue that's prepared to give country music a go. And accessibility is key in a city where parking spots are at a premium: the club is in a quieter, light industrial part of Marrickville - just around the corner from the Factory Theatre, if you know it - so there's plenty of parking and buses run nearby.
91 Sydenham Road (corner of Fitzroy)
Marrickville NSW

Thursday, October 13, 2011

CD review: Sal Kimber & The Rollin' Wheel

The first album from Sal Kimber, Sounds like Thunder, heralded an exciting new alt-country talent - but it was quite a different CD to her latest, self-titled effort, Sal Kimber & The Rollin' Wheel. That difference demonstrates that Kimber is moving and changing, in very good ways. The new album is seductive from the very first song, 'Rockin' Chair', and keeps that momentum going into the second song, 'Do Right', and beyond. Sal's voice cajoles the listener into coming closer. The steady syncopation of the drum beats through these opening songs anchors her intentions.

Or so we think, because we then move into the sweet ache of 'Your Town', the yearning of 'Sweet Love', the steady country beat of 'Rollin' Wheel', the subtle growl and hypnotic rhythm of 'Walking in the Woods' and on and on into a broad musical palette.

Sal Kimber & The Rollin' Wheel is a mature, accomplished album that blends a few 'sub-branches' of country - rockabilly, swing, rock, bluegrass, alt country. Kimber's voice is the greatest instrument on the album - versatile and responsive to the needs of the song, rich in tone and demanding the listener's attention. It's a fine album to have on the background, with all its tones and rhythms blending, but it's much better enjoyed on close listening.

Read the Jolene interview with Sal Kimber here.

Sal Kimber & The Rollin' Wheel are touring throughout October, November and December, in Victoria, the ACT, New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania. For details, go to:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

CD review: Beaut Ute Anthems 2011

Beaut Ute Anthems 2011, it should be noted, is a two-CD affair but I'm only going to review the 'Country' disc. The 'Rock' disc has no business being reviewed on this blog ... As one might expect, though, the country songs tend towards the country-rock variety. And there are some pretty good songs on here.

Happily the Australian content is high: Shane Nicholson's 'Bad Machines', Rose Carleo's 'That Season Again', Jasmine Rae's 'Hunky Country Boys', which is the first track and pretty much sets the tone. There's also Catherine Britt, McAlister Kemp, Tamworth stalwarts The Wolverines and Ben Gunn. The overseas talent includes Blake Shelton and some dude called Tim McGraw.

While I wouldn't recommend this CD for a lazy country drive, that's not what these songs are for, anyway. They're for ute driving, and I'm confident that folks who go to the Deni Ute Muster, for example, would think they're just ace for the road trip there. In other words: a great selection for that particular theme - but only buy it if you like your country loud. I don't have a ute, and my little hatchback probably couldn't take the pace. But I was glad to have the opportunity to discover some local artists whose CDs I want to now buy.

Interview: Sal Kimber

Alt-country artist Sal Kimber and her band, The Rollin' Wheel, had a cracker of a debut album, called Sounds like Thunder. Now they're about to release an eponymous album that ticks a variety of country boxes, all of them good. Ahead of this release, Sal kindly answered some questions by email.

The songs on your first album suggest someone stuck between the past and the present - 'Drive' sounds almost like a bushranger song while 'Met Police' is firmly rooted in urban life. But that's a paradox of country music, too: the sound of it is redolent of the past, of a time and way of living gone, but contemporary musicians can only write about what they know. Do you feel that paradox at all?
Most of the songs that I write are stories which I have picked up from talking to people, from reading and from my own life experience, the stories just happen to come from different time periods but there is no conscious definite gap between two different types of time periods, songs or story style. The songs that I paint come from both rural and urban environments, because I find inspiration from both, I think this juxtaposition between city and country will always exist in my songwriting.

There seems to be more 'old-timey' country music coming out of rural Victoria [Sal is from Victoria] - is there a community of country musicians that you feel a part of?
There are communities of healthy 'ole timey' country music dotted all around rural Vic. Probably the community I feel most connected to is the 'Alt Country' music scene in Melbourne Town, there are so many talented young and experienced alt country singer songwriters on the streets of Northcote and Brunswick, supporting and inspiring each other. As illusive as it is I do like to use the term 'alt country', we have a banjo and a double bass in our band so most people would instantly categorsze us as country, but many old skool country music fans would say we are folk, and folkies call us Roots. So the term 'alt country' allows us to recognise our roots, yet get away with being folk, rootsy, eclectic and edgy.

There appear to be more female singer-songwriters putting out records in Australian country music than in rock or pop - do you think this is because the country music community as a whole is more supportive, so that it's easier for new artists to be heard and get gigs, or are female songwriters particularly attracted to country, for some reason?
There is definitely a new wave of appreciation and love for country music, especially alt country music at the moment. venues and festivals and audiences are super supportive of female alt country. This wave appears to have brought with it a healthy amount of new artists. It's an exciting time for alt country.

In Sydney it's quite hard to find country music gigs of any stripe - what's happening in Melbourne?
Bluegrass, ole timey and alt country seems to be seeping out of Melbourne streets at the moment, it is truly alive and kicking, feels exciting to be part of it.

Across both albums there's a range of country styles, including roots, bluegrass and swing - do you have a particular favourite?
Hmmm, depends which day you catch me on. Today it's swing :)

Have you flirted with other musical styles, or has country music always appealed?
I grew up on a staple of blues and folk, I discovered country a little later in my life and it has had my heart ever since.

The new album has, in parts, a muddier, gutsier, one could even say raunchier feel - what was going on when you wrote the songs? Or was this something that came out in the studio?
The new album is definitely a lot more playful than the last one. My band THE ROLLIN' WHEEL has an unchanged line up for over 3 years, we all love hanging out and have a pretty playful dynamic energy when we come together. Probably that and the fact that I have been listening to a lot of Lucinda Williams.

'Your Town', 'Sweet Love', 'Rollin' Wheel' are 'sweet' songs - not saccharine country-pop but definitely different to the opening tracks. Do you naturally search for a balance in your material - almost a light and dark balance - or is it a conscious decision?
I do tend to write a lot of different shades, mostly because I listen to and am inspired by many different styles of songwriting. We took over 25 songs to Shane O'Mara (who produced the new album), 25 songs of such varying shade- we recorded 18 and ended up with a 13 track album, the final 13 were selected on the strength and merit of the song itself, as opposed to finding 13 songs that balanced well together.

The album press release mentions the 'raucous bars' you've played in. I'm curious as to whether these sorts of environments have influenced how you sing - do you find your voice altering to rise about the noise? Do you then write songs that may accommodate that voice?
Playing gigs and practising with an energetic five-piece band, one does find oneself having to sing and pick the banjo a lot louder than I ever have before, especially with the added dynamic of a loud raucous bar. It's not unusual to play a show where I can't hear my own voice or banjo on stage, so inevitably my voice has altered and my songwriting has altered to accommodate these elements, but I love playing raucous bars and I love my band, so for now I just gotta learn to sing a little louder.

Are you heading to Tamworth for the 2012 festival?
I don't believe we are this year, you will find us in the Alt Country alley if we do go though :)

Sal Kimber and The Rollin' Wheel are playing shows soon - visit for details.

To purchase either - or both - of Sal's albums, go to

Interview: Tim Chaisson (part II)

Tim Chaisson is a 24-year-old musician from Prince Edward Island on Canada's east coast. He's about to embark on an Australian tour supporting Shannon Noll and playing at the Sydney Blues & Roots Festival.

You can read the first part of this interview here.

Coming out of that Maritimes musical culture, which is Celtic in origin, for your progression as a songwriter and performer, have you consciously moved away from that, because your style now is a bit more folk/rock/perhaps country.Growing up and playing the Celtic music -I then started singing something that I wanted to keep separate, like I almost wanted to have the Celtic influence and then whatever I started singing I wanted to have separate to the Celtic music. But I think subconsciously it all comes out in my songwriting a bit, but that's just because I love all the different styles of music. I just kind of write what comes out, really, I don't necessarily try to make it not sound Celtic or not make it sound like country or rock or pop.

On this latest album you collaborated a bit, whereas before you wrote mainly on your own. How was that experience?

My last record I wrote, recorded and produced it all, and recorded all the instruments by myself, and I had the three guys who are in my band, Morning Fold, they're with me for tours. And co-writing too - with Joel Plaskett and Geordie Johnson [who co-wrote with Chaisson on Broken Hearted Beat] a lot more different elements came into play, it was definitely completely different, having their ideas. I loved it. It was like having other heads. Everybody put their heads together and saw what they could come up with. It was pretty cool.

There were no arguments about who gets to write the bridge, who gets to write the verse ...

[laughs] No, there wasn't, actually. All the songs I co-wrote - I didn't co-write anything with the guys in my band, but sometimes someone will say, 'We can do this', and someone else will say, 'I don't think so, we should do this', and I think that goes along with an art and playing music and every band has that. You eventually settle on what you want to do and what's best for the song.

You're coming out to Australia on your own, without the band?

Yes, coming on my own this time, and I hope to get back with the guys in the band.

I often think that performers who have bands but who also play on their own, with just a guitar and their own voice, it must be quite nice to feel 'I can do this - whatever happens, this gig's going to be okay'.

It's such a different vibe on stage, too. You sing a song a little bit differently because you're by yourself and you have to attract people as best you can. Like in Australia, nobody will know who I am so there's a little bit of pressure when you're by yourself and to not have the four or three guys behind you to cheer you along. But I'm looking forward to it.

Have you heard about Shannon Noll, who you'll be supporting?

I've been doing a lot of reading about him and I've been listening to his music. He's very talented and I'm looking forward to doing the shows with him. I know he's a well-known artist in Australia. I'm looking forward to meeting him too and watching his show. I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

Tim Chaisson tour dates

11-13 October - Brass Monkey, Cronulla NSW

14 October - The Basement, Sydney NSW

15 October - Cessnock NSW

20 October - The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide SA

25 October - The Brass Monkey, solo show

Sydney Blues & Roots Festival

27 October - Opening Night Gala

28-30 October - solo performances

All info:

Twitter: @timchaisson

Monday, October 10, 2011

Interview: Tim Chaisson (part I)

The east coast of Canada, and especially its Maritime Provinces, seem to produce a fair number of very talented musicians who come from large musical families. For those of you unfamiliar with the culture of the Maritimes, there is a heavy Celtic influence, including on the accents of the inhabitants, some of whom sound like they've just arrived from Ireland.

Tim Chaisson is a 24-year-old musician from just such a family, and he has garnered a large fan base in Canada through several years of touring and winning awards and generally being very good at what he does, as can be heard on his latest album, Broken Hearted Beat.

Tim grew up, and still lives, on Prince Edward Island (PEI), but he's about to leave his bucolic home to support Shannon Noll on an Australian tour, starting 11 October in Sydney, and playing at the Sydney Blues & Roots Festival (scroll down to see dates listed after the interview). I talked to Tim by phone from PEI last week because even though he's not really playing country music, he's country enough for me - and also because I have a very soft spot for Canadian singer-songwriters, who tend to produce consistently high-quality music.

What happens in the Maritime Provinces that you all seem to come from large musical families and end up being musicians?

I know, it's true ... I grew up in a really big family and music was everywhere, and that was just the way it went. It went back a lot of generations. There's a lot of Chaissons on PEI, and everybody plays, so it was kind of a given to play. You'd be a little different if you didn't play.

At what age did you start playing? It sounds like you play a few different instruments, so you must have picked up something pretty early.

I started off playing the fiddle when I was about six. And I still play the fiddle, but that was kind of the more dominant instrument - everybody started off on the fiddle in my family. And then I moved over to guitar and a few other instruments as time went on. I have a few older brothers and they have played different instruments, so there was always something kicking around. So I always got my hands on whatever I could.

Do you write your songs on the fiddle or the guitar?

Mostly on the guitar. The odd time I'll write a song on the piano, but most of my stuff comes from the guitar. I find the fiddle is a tough instrument as an accompaniment - it only has four strings, you hold it up on your neck. To have the guitar as an accompanying instrument is a lot better, and better to write songs to. The piano is also just a little bit fuller and good to write on, I find.

At what age did you start singing?

I kind of always sand when I was younger. But I didn't start singing in public, or at shows, until I was probably thirteen years old. But I sang when I was a kid at family concerts. I dind't really start taking it seriously until I was a teenager. [While] there were a lot of singers in my family. a lot of my cousins were instrumentalists, so a lot of us didn't sing.

Do you consider yourself more a singer or a songwriter, or both equally?

I guess both equally, because I sing my own songs and write my own songs. I do like writing songs for other people, or writing songs but having somebody else in mind to sing them. I hope to do more of that in the future.

It seems in Canadian music that there's a very supportive community - in the Maritimes, in the Halifax scene, across the whole country, really. You all seem to be friendly and collaborative.

Yeah, that's very true. I think in Canada - and I hear the same about Australia - that for the most part we're all for letting other people in and being nice and curious and laidback, especially on the east coast, I find. Collaborations are huge here - teaming up with other bands. And being a fiddler too I find that some of the bands I play with, they all like hopping up on stage and playing with other bands, or if they have a recording to do they'll ask me to play on their recordings or sing on their recording. There has been a lot of that. Even the more popular bands, too, they do the same kind of thing. It's just like helping each other out and doing what you do and having a good time. It's not so much of a cut-throat thing in Canada, I find. We like to help each other and we're all friends.

Living on PEI, are there logistical challenges for getting your music 'out there'?

Yeah, definitely. We're pretty far east in Canada, so even to get to Vancouver is a pretty far drive and even a far flight. We've been to Vancouver a few times. Every time we [Tim's band is Morning Fold] tour it's a lot of driving. [But] these days it's a little bit easier to get things done, with social media and stuff like that. Growing up on PEI - I love getting out there but it's great to come home, to your 'home' home. There are definitely logistical challenges but I think it's worth it, in a way.

Perhaps your music would change if you lived in Toronto. You'd be out of your context, in a way.

It's funny, because we've spent a lot of time in Toronto over the last two years. At one point I thought about moving there because we were there so much and I was there so much, and it's the hub ... But you're in a big city and you have that city feel. It's very different to PEI, which is very rural and very laidback. The vibe is completely different. And that comes out a little bit, I think, in the music.

Part II of this interview will be published tomorrow.

Tim Chaisson tour dates

For more info go to

Twitter: @timchaisson

11, 12, 13 October 2011 - Brass Monkey, Cronulla NSW (supporting Shannon Noll)

14 October 2011 - The Basement, Sydney NSW (supporting Shannon Noll)

15 October 2011 - Cessnock NSW (supporting Shannon Noll)

20 October - The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide SA (supporting Shannon Noll)

22 October - The Tempo Hotel, Brisbane Qld (supporting Shannon Noll)

25 October - Brass Monkey (solo)

27 October - Sydney Blues & Roots Festival Opening Gala NSW

28-30 October - Sydney Blues & Roots Festival NSW

Friday, October 7, 2011

Harmony James ramping up ahead of new album release

One of my favourite Australian singer-songwriters, Harmony James, has a new album due but hasn't let us know the release date yet ... But in amongst an abundance of hand-wringing (on my part) there is at least a single to enjoy, called 'Pride'. As with the rest of the material on the new album, the song is written by Harmony and produced by Herm Kovacs, who was at the helm of her first album, Tailwind.

The video clip (can we still call them that when actual videotape is pretty much a thing of the past?) of 'Pride' is now in fairly heavy rotation on CMC. Filming took place in an old house in Picton, which is to the south-west of Sydney. The house is rumoured to be haunted, although it seems Harmony didn't encounter any ghosts - which she was disappointed about. I'm currently reading Karina Machado's Where Spirits Dwell and am sufficiently freaked out by it to think that seeing no ghosts is a good thing ...

In other Harmony news: she was awarded the 2011 APRA Personal Development Award. No doubt she'll be given other APRA awards in future - not to mention Golden Guitars. (Yes, I'm completely biased.) In the meantime, she needs to release that second album!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book review: Kasey Chambers

Kasey Chambers is a natural storyteller. Her gigs always feature a fair amount of chatter in between songs, and usually she tells stories about her life. So if you've been to a few of Kasey's shows, you'll know some of her stories. That is not to say, though, that you'll have heard them all - and, thus, for any Kasey fan, her new book, A Little Bird Told Me ..., is a must.

The book is written with Jeff Apter, who is an experienced biographer (of Keith Urban, and Neil and Tim Finn, amongst others) and co-writer. Apter's challenge would obviously have been to capture Kasey's distinctive voice - that voice in which she tells stories at shows, not the one with which she sings (which is also, obviously, distinctive). To a certain degree, he's got it, although I sense it has been tempered a bit in an effort to appeal to a less hard-core-fan readership - and fair enough: they want the book to sell. It's possibly only people like me - who have heard some of the stories, and for whom Kasey is such a powerful cultural figure - who'll want more.

Certainly, for Kasey fans there is a lot of great information here about what was happening in Kasey's life during the creation of her albums, and there are stories behind some of the songs. I would have loved to know more of this stuff - the stories behind the songs - because for me Kasey's songs are so important and enduring that those stories deserve to be told.

What could never have been in the book - because Kasey is the narrator and she doesn't get to say it about herself - is a sense of gravitas, I guess: the sense that this is a really important story in Australian cultural history. Because Kasey really is important - she is one of our most enduring and successful songwriters; her oeuvre to date encompasses true country as well as pop, rock and folk, and is authentic in a way many songwriters never are. But perhaps that book is still coming, and it should be written by someone else; maybe it's going to be someone's PhD.

In the meantime, I hope that some people who aren't yet hard-core Kasey fans will read this book and feel inspired to listen more closely to her music. I hope they'll realise that she's a woman - a person - who manages a rare feat: she combines an intensively creative life with a robust family life. That feat, that balance, is probably what I took away from this book the most - that and the fact that she is a passionate person. She is passionate about music; about her relationships with her parents, brother, husband and sons, and her best friend Worm; about the landscape of her childhood and the communities she has lived in. It is, sadly, rare that public figures express passion, but in performance and in this book she does not shy away from it. It's infectious, and it's truly lovely. Just like her music.

A Little Bird Told Me ... by Kasey Chambers, with Jeff Apter, published by HarperCollins Australia 2011
*Please consider buying this book from your local independent bookseller*

New album soon from Danny Widdicombe

Brisbane musician Danny Widdicombe - you may know him as one of the Wilson Pickers - is responsible for one of the best gigs I've ever seen in my life, one rainy afternoon in the front bar of the Tamworth Hotel during the Country Music Festival. Danny was an eleventh-hour replacement in the slot and he played for three hours straight, with a variety of musical friends sitting in on the occasional song. But mostly it was Danny playing originals and covers, and being completely amazing.

Those of you who are familiar with Danny's story know that the songs on his first album, The Transplant Tapes, were written while Danny was awaiting a bone marrow transplant. The transplant was successful and Danny went on to produce a second album, Dominoes, and also become a member of the Wilson Pickers, playing all over the place and generally being the genius musician and lively personality that he is.

Danny recently fell ill again, but through that time he managed to create a third album, the forthcoming Find Someone, to be released on 21 October. The musical style of this album apparently ranges from country rock to groove to acoustic. I can't wait to hear it because, based on his first two albums, it's going to be great. So if you haven't heard of Danny, doyourselfafavour and get hold of one or all of his albums.