Thursday, April 21, 2016

Album review: Lovers and Leavers by Hayes Carll

The fifth album from Texan singer-songwriter Hayes Carll is a rumination on the subjects of its title: lovers and leavers. Three of the songs have 'love' in the title; the 'leavers' can be found in 'You Leave Alone', Good While it Lasted' and 'Drive'.

Carll sings in a style that could be called 'whiskey-soaked', except that implies a certain level of sloppiness and these songs aren't sloppy. So perhaps a better description is to say that his singing style is cracked, in the way Ryan Bingham's is, and slow, in the vein of country music artists who are quite a bit older than him. It's the latter quality – the languidness that comes with not hurrying through a song, the sense that the singer is sure enough of who he is that he can take his time telling you – that is the best indicator of Carll's long experience. His lyrics, too, suggest a man who has spent quite a lot of time thinking about how life works, and how it doesn't. There's an element of the frontiersman in these songs – there's space in these songs that suggests open plains and big skies, but also space for the listener to lay in their own interpretations, experiences and emotions.

For those who like to be strict about their country music classifications, this is an American country music album. There's a way that steel guitars get played on American albums that can often be different to what turns up on Australian albums, no doubt because the lyrical content is different and the music complements the words. But Carll is a storyteller the way so many Australian country music artists are, so he doesn't sound so unfamiliar. This album has the ability to break hearts by stealth – listen closely to the lyrics and it's there, even if Carll doesn't sound miserable while he's singing. The heartbreak is in those aforementioned spaces – make of those what you will. 

Lovers and Leavers is out now through Cooking Vinyl Australia.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Karl Broadie

In the early hours of 19 April 2016, Scottish-Australian artist Karl Broadie succumbed to a cancer that had been diagnosed only weeks before. I first met Karl just over eleven years before that date, during the Tamworth Country Music Festival. I saw him play first - the logical way to be introduced to a singer-songwriter - and can still remember how, upon arriving in town, I was hustled to the Imperial Hotel by a friend who knew him. We arrived after he'd started playing, and after a long drive from Sydney, his music was the perfect beginning to the festival. I remember thinking how unique his sound was, and how incredible his stage presence. He would close his eyes while he was playing guitar and his face would change. He was in the moment, in flow, in a state of grace - whichever term you like for that.

Because my friend knew him, I subsequently met him and mentioned that I'd seen that Imperial gig. 'Yeah, I saw you sitting there,' he said, smiling. In a small venue, it's no surprise that one curly-haired person recognised another: the tribe can be close that way.

I saw him play again that festival. I saw him play so many times over subsequent years that I lost count. I gave his albums as gifts, always trying to impress upon people that Karl was something special, because he was.

When I first started making this blog a real concern, in the second half of 2011, it was because I'd been very sick myself and, sequestered at home for months, I wanted that time to be productive. That illness took me away from my previous life, including going to gigs on a regular basis, and I never really returned to it in the same way. So I didn't see Karl play as much, but was still aware of what was going on in his life, via a different personal connection. He remained one of my favourite songwriters and performers.

All of Karl's albums bar one were released before the end of 2011, so that's why there are no reviews of them on this site (and I bought the last one, A Side B Side Seaside, so long after its release date that I decided not to review it). This, then, will be my only opportunity to say that he was one of the best songwriters I've ever encountered. So many of his songs contain those moments of magic that music lovers know - the moments when everything in life seems perfect. He knew lyrics, he knew melody, he knew nuance and tempo and tone.

So if you do not know his music, please go and listen to it. Start with Nowhere Now Here, his first album, because it shows no signs of a man learning his craft. It's a mature album, full of wonder. You might be like me and just want to stay with that one for a while, but his second album, Black Crow Callin', is also fantastic, so don't wait too long. Then move on chronologically and chart his life and musical progress through the documents we have left: his songs.

Like me, you may come to think that it's impossible that he's dead - he's just across a slip in time, still singing, still closing his eyes as he plays his guitar. It's what I'd like to believe.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Album review: Little Windows by Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones

British-American singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson has a pedigreed family and career, collaborating with Rufus and Martha Wainwright, among others. Based in New York City, his musical influences cross folk, rock and Elvis Presley. Kelly Jones is a singer-songwriter living in Los Angeles whose background is more in the country vein. The pair first sang together in LA club Largo in 2011 and, clearly, something gelled.

Now, together, they have created a jewel of an album – or, rather, ten jewels of songs that make up Little Windows. These songs are not appropriate for anyone intent on having a bad day, because they can’t help but make the listener feel extremely happy, with their Andrews Sisters-meets-country-and-folk structures and sounds.

Some songs, like ‘Don’t Remind Me’ and ‘As You Were’, sound as though they’re being broadcast across the decades from the years after World War II, but with less of a saccharine spin to the lyrics and a delightful play of male and female voices rather than all female or all male. Thompson’s and Jones’s singing styles aren’t as stylised as the singers from that era, and that’s what gives these songs their modern bent. This is the twentieth century’s version of classical music remade for a twenty-first century audience.

Several of the songs sound as though they belong on a front porch at sunset, a guitar in someone’s hand and the performers indulging in the sheer joy of singing with each other. In this way they honour the traditions of country music while again reinterpreting them for an audience that may have no knowledge of the genre. This is what happens when two seriously talented and experienced musicians know how to work with their material and each other.

If you are someone whose day revolves around music – if you wake up and go to sleep with songs on your mind, and find yourself distracted by songs throughout the day – this album cannot help become a favourite. It is enchanting and generous, as if Thomspon and Jones are giving the listener a gift that could be snatched away if we don’t appreciate it properly. Happily, it’s a gift that will stick around, for as many repeated listenings as you like, for many years to come.

Little Windows is  available through Cooking Vinyl Australia.             

Friday, April 15, 2016

Album review: Shiner by Sean McMahon and The MoonMen

Melburnian Sean McMahon has some form in the alt country department, as a member of bands Downhills Home and Western Union, which would explain why his new album with his new band, Shiner, doesn't sound like a debutante effort. It's not an alt country album, though - not entirely. But that's to be forgiven when McMahon and The MoonMen blend alt country with a bit of psychedelic rock and blues. 

The most country of the tracks are 'Here Comes the Night Again' and 'Further Still to Run', with their echoes of Whiskeytown. The rest of the album could probably be classified as country by stealth: an album that people who say 'I hate country music' would listen to (I used to be one of those people, so that is not a judgement!). After a few go-rounds they realise that they've grown fond of pedal steel, and before they know it they're in the fold. In other words: artists like Sean McMahon can often act as proselytisers for country music at large, not just because the music hooks the listener but because McMahon is true to the genre by singing stories and paying his listeners the compliment of giving them properly developed songs and lyrics.
McMahon's notes on the songs suggest that several of them arose from a tough time in his life, and while sadness is there the album isn't melancholy overall, mainly because he's chosen to marry those darker lyrics with music that carries the listener along. There is the train-track beat of so many country songs, plus the thumping beat of rock.Overall, there are several different elements on this album for new listeners to enjoy and, no doubt, for his existing fans to relish.

Shiner is out now through MGM Distribution.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Album review: Honest Man by Matt Andersen

Canadian artist Matt Andersen's last album, Weightless, was a blues tour de force, and it sounded like Andersen's voice was made for the genre. On his latest album, Honest Man, it turns out that blues wasn't the only type of music that suits him. Honest Man has influences from gospel and soul, and Andersen sounds even more comfortable with those, if that's possible. 

As befits those genres, this album often sounds almost joyous - it is definitely weighted towards songs in major keys. The title track is a gutsy tune whose lyrics are darker than its tone - frankly, it's a toe-tapper and it took a little while to realise that the lyrics are more about being downtrodden than lifted up.

Andersen gives expression to the lower reaches of his voice - in notes and emotion - on the dirge-like 'I'm Giving In', which is the most arresting song on the album, showcasing the range of his vocal ability. 'Last Surrender' is a slow swing seduction and 'One Good Song' is a beautiful closing track about what is sacrificed in the pursuit of a life in music.

This is an incredibly accessible album - it doesn't require knowledge of gospel or soul (or blues, because there's a still a bit of that) to appreciate it, and Andersen's voice always sounds like an invitation, because it's big and warm and open. For fans who prefer the depths of the blues, this album won't reinforce any bad-moodyness - but nor will it sound so unfamiliar that it can't be enjoyed. And for those who are new to Andersen, it's an excellent introduction.

Honest Man is out now.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Sal Kimber and John Flanagan on tour

I'm a big fan of Sal Kimber and have been so enjoying John Flanagan's new album, There's Another Way to Where You're Going. This talented pair are touring together. Catch them at one of these venues:

Sat 9th April Grand Pooh Bar Hobart, TAS

Fri 15th April Front Gallery Canberra, ACT

Tues 3rd May Brisbane Unplugged Brisbane, QLD

Fri 6th May Django Bar Sydney, NSW

Sat 23rd April The Song Room Tanunda, SA
Sun 24th April The Wheatsheaf Hotel Adelaide, SA

For more information:

Concert for Karl Broadie

My love for Karl Broadie's music arose the very first time I attended the Tamworth Country Music Festival - I'd only been in town for ten minutes when a friend insisted that we go to his show at the Imperial Hotel. One song in, I was hooked on his incredible songwriting and his almost ethereal way of connecting with an audience. I would see him play many more times and listen to his albums over and over. He has written some of my favourite songs - and possibly some of yours too.

Karl is now very sick and in need of all kinds of support. The Australian country music industry is offering the most tangible form of support it can, as a fundraising show to be held on 17 April at Rooty Hill RSL. Kasey Chambers, Adam Harvey and Catherine Britt will be at this event to help raise funds to support Karl in the cost of his treatment. As if that magnificent trio weren't enough reason to attend, Brooke McClymont, Adam Eckersley, Luke O’Shea, Jasmine Rae, Harry Hookey, Katie Brianna, Caitlin Harnett, Adam Young and Den Hanrahan will also appear.

Further  information further and links on how you can support the cause  can be found at

In case you've not heard Karl's music before, here's one of my favourites, from the album Black Crow Callin'.