Monday, May 29, 2017

Single release: 'Bring it On' by The Rough Diamonds

If you close your eyes while listening to 'Bring it On', the new single from Australian country music act The Rough Diamonds, you can easily imagine you're in Tamworth in any given January, with the dry heat and the occasional rogue thunderstorm, with kids in off properties, crowds on Peel Street, lots of good cheer and full campgrounds and a few days to just relax and listen to music. That's what this song evokes: it is country music that is identifiably Australian, and it's terrific.

The Rough Diamonds are sisters Lou, Cec and Em - although since recording this song Lou has moved to country Victoria, leaving Cec and Em to be the diamonds.

Listen to 'Bring it On' on Soundcloud.

Single release: 'Running' by The Nickajack Men

The tendrils of country music can, of course, reach all over the planet, and in the case of The Nickajack Men they reach as far as Falkirk, Scotland. The British country music scene, appropriately, has its own sound, taking influences from existing American acts (I can't hear much Australian country music in there) and the rich history of contemporary British music. In the case of The Nickajack Men, who have taken on the mantle of alt-country rock, country turns up in the vocals and guitar while the rest of the musical pedigree sounds influenced by 1990s Britpop and rock - in a good way. (In a parallel universe I'd have take to make a forensic study of the various country music lineages around the world, but for now this blog is it, and I'm happy to have this evidence of what's going on in the far reaches of the northern hemisphere.)

The Nickajack Men have released a new EP, Wasting Away, and from it comes the track 'Running', which you can listen to on Soundcloud.

Interview: Hayley Marsten

In Australian country music, artists can emerge at any age, from sixteen to sixty and beyond. Queensland artist Hayley Marsten happens to be young, but one spin of her second EP, Lonestar, will prove that she has a voice of great depth and wisdom, and songwriting skill that suggests she has been at this gig a while. Ahead of Lonestar's release on 9 June, I had the pleasure of talking to Hayley, who will launch the EP in Gladstone, Queensland on 10 June and Brisbane on 14 June. Details on her website.

What – or who – did you grow up listening to?
I had a really eclectic musical upbringing. My parents listened to a lot of really weird stuff. My dad played Johnny Cash on and off but he would play '80s music – we would listen to Ace of Base – and Mum liked Robbie Williams, so we would play Robbie Williams all the time. I love Robbie as well. So it was really from one extreme to the next. Then when I was in high school I was into emo pop sort of stuff and it wasn’t until I was fifteen that I actually found Taylor Swift and got into country music. So it’s a very large musical upbringing, I think.

Pop is a great grounding, because it’s so much about entertaining your audience, as is country music, and solid song structure is also important in pop. But I’m interested that you came to country via Taylor Swift, because while Taylor comes from Nashville and is obviously knowledgeable about country music, your sound has some more traditional elements than hers. Once you started exploring country music, which artists started to appeal to you?
After I got into it I found Loretta Lynn and I was, like, ‘This is the one.’ So I listened to Loretta a lot. I just like a lot of strong women in country. I really liked Miranda Lambert when I first started listening to country, and I still do. And now I’ve gravitated more into the singer-songwriters like Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves. I’ve always thought that lyrics are very important. I really care about the lyrics, so I think that songs that have real meaning and you can really tell that those people have lived that story, or they’re really good at making you think they have – any song like that is something I love to hear.

That point you make about those artists making you think they’ve lived that story – that requires a lot of energy and effort as well. To take on someone else’s story, you’ve still got to inhabit them.
I think it’s easier for me to sing songs that I’ve written because when you get up, it’s not acting but you still have to sell the song to people and it’s a lot easier when you’ve felt that way and you’ve been through that. And a lot of times country music fans, I think, are really in tune with that, and they’re not dumb – they’ll know that you’re being inauthentic if you’re not singing what’s really in your heart. That’s what’s really special about country music.

I completely agree. This is your second EP coming up – when you recorded your first EP, were there particular influences over the writing or the musical style that were perhaps different to those for your second EP?
When I wrote Even I was mostly a teenager for that time and I wrote all by myself for all of the five songs. I think I was a little … not immature, but kind of. I hadn’t really done a lot of living and I had lived a sheltered kind of little life. And I was still finding my way with what I wanted to sound like and what I wanted to say. With this EP I feel so confident and I just know that this is who I want to be and what I want to say and how I want to sound, and everything is exactly how I want it to be. I’ve had a lot of time to grow. I’ve lived out of home – I’m from Gladstone in central Queensland originally but I have just finished a university degree, so I lived out of home in Brisbane for three and a half years. I’d never been away from my mum before – I’m an only child. So I had a general university experience, which I think is pretty well summed up in the first single. Lonestar really feels like the start of something special to me. I’m so proud of it, I can’t wait for people to hear it. It feels like I’ve been working on it for a million years and I can’t wait for it to be out.

When did you start writing it and when did the recording happen?
I started writing for it a month after the last EP came out and I knew that it was going to be called Lonestar after I wrote the title track, and everything else fell around that. Then we recorded it in December last year, with Matt Fell, and it was great.

I imagine once you’ve got those songs in the can you would be keen to get them out. So have you had to learn patience with that part of the process?
Yes. Once I came back and they were all done, I thought, This sounds so good. I just want people to know that I’m good [laughs]. I just kept thinking, If we do it properly and we wait, it will make a bigger splash and I want as many people as possible to hear this music, so if I have to wait six months for it to come out and be done right then it’s okay. I’d rather do it right than do it fast.

A good policy. There are several different moods on this EP but I did detect on some of the songs an almost jaunty tone – it sounded to me like you were upbeat going into the studio. Was that how you were feeling?
When we first got to Sydney I was kind of freaking out a bit because we hadn’t picked the songs. I had a pool of them and Matt hadn’t said, ‘Yep, these are definitely the ones’. So I was a bit anxious at first but once we got in the studio … The guys who played on this record are amazing. Once it started happening, how could you not be overjoyed? I had some of the greatest players in Australia on this record and Matt is amazing, so by the time we came around to recording the vocals the songs already sounded so happy – I was very, very excited to be finally recording this music.

Is it weird to hand over the song selection to someone else when all those songs are quite close to you, or do you actually find it a relief that someone else does that part of it?
It was kind of scary because when I had started writing this EP and I’d got most of the songs together, I was really proud of them and I knew that they were really good. I felt like it was my baby and I thought, I don’t want to take this to the wrong person – it has to be the perfect person to make this right. So it was a bit scary at that point but once I picked Matt it all fell into place and it wasn’t scary because I knew he was going to do a great job. I trusted him enough to know that it wasn’t going to be like a scary thing, a daunting thing, to hand these songs over to him because I knew that he was just absolutely going to kill it – and he did.

You mentioned people who played on the record – I don’t have any information about who played on it, so if you could run me through that …
Glen Hannah played guitars and Shane Nicholson played many guitars, mandolins … Did he play banjo? No, I don’t think so. Josh Schuberth played drums and Matt played pretty much every instrument you could think of that is on there. And I just sang – ‘I’m going to leave it to the professionals. They can play everything better than I can.’ [Laughs] It was pretty amazing to be in a studio with those guys.

Especially because Shane and Glen are producers themselves – I would think it adds an interesting aspect to their performances on other people’s records. In this country there’s a good, solid pool of really professional producers and musicians like Matt, Shane and Glen, and the fact that you can have them playing on your record with that producer’s ear, it’s great.
Yes, and to have them say, ‘This is a really great song – I really like this line’ or whatever. Obviously any time anyone says something complimentary about my music I really appreciate it, but from those guys, who play on hundreds of records every year, they know their shit so [I thought], This is gonna be good. They didn’t have to say anything, they’re getting paid to be there, so for them to actually say, ‘I really like this song’ or ‘This song’s really special’, that’s a huge compliment to me.

You said you wrote the first EP on your own, but on this EP you had some co-writers, and some very good ones. You wrote one song with Lyn Bowtell and I’m wondering how that relationship came about.
Lyn and I had known each other a little bit because I was at the Academy of Country Music last year, and then I went to the Dag Songwriting Retreat last year in July, and we got paired up. I knew I wanted to finish this particular song and I just was praying that Lyn Bowtell was going to pick my name out of the hat, and she did. Because it was such a personal song, I really wanted it to be someone I already had a relationship with, and I don’t think I could have gotten anybody better than Lyn to write this song with. Now she’s my vocal coach and we catch up all the time, but she’s more like my life coach sometimes. I say, ‘Lyn, what do I do?’ and she says, ‘Honey, listen – this, this, this. You’ve got this – don’t freak out.’

What an extraordinary person to have as your vocal coach, because she’s such a great singer. But when you were finding your singing voice, sometimes you have to move around a bit to find the right tone – did it take you a while to find your singing voice? Because it’s a very strong, confident sound.
I think the voice that you hear on this EP did not come about when I first started singing. I don’t know if I was just an arrogant child or what, but I always knew that I could sing and that I was a good singer [laughs]. Only-child syndrome or something. I always knew I could sing but I never did anything about it. But in high school I did a lot of musical theatre and stage musicals, so I think I just slowly, over time, found what my voice is, and I think I’m still finding what it can do. I was in choirs and stuff and they’d say, ‘You can’t sing high’ – ‘Okay, obviously I can’t do that.’ Meeting Lyn has been a big turning point to bring out the voice I’ve got on the EP because she said, ‘Of course you can do that – you’ve got a voice in there that you’re just too afraid to use. You don’t know how to use it properly.’ Everything seems like a big change on this EP because I finally know what my voice can do and how I can write and that sort of thing, so it’s a big step forward.

And it’s such an intriguing notion, to have a voice in there that you’re almost too afraid to bring out. Like something’s trapped deep inside. But it would also be quite scary to confront that idea, first of all, and then to do the work to bring it out.
Yes – I think it was because I had been told that I couldn’t do it and then I thought okay, obviously I can’t, and then I never tried, because I thought, If I try to sing this really high note I’ll stuff it up. So I think it’s a confidence thing, and Lonestar, the whole EP, is about regaining your confidence and regaining your inner strength. So to be going on that separate journey to find out how to sing again is a funny sort of partnership, I suppose.

You mentioned finding your confidence, and in the title song there’s the line, ‘You said I’d never make it to the top/Girls like me they always stop’, and it sounds like someone said that to you at some stage. The girl you were at the time that was said to you – how is she different to the girl you are now?
I’ve spent a lot of time in my home town recently and I was thinking about when I was in high school and when I first moved away, I was really unsure of myself and unsure of what my future would be like. I didn’t know how to make what I wanted to happen happen. And I had a lot of time around me at the time – well, one particular person at the time, I suppose – who wasn’t really supportive and just was really an energy suck on my whole personality and life, and just moving past that and not letting dull your sparkle, and not letting people come and say, ‘You can’t do that’. You don’t know me – I can do whatever I want. I think I just have a bit more confidence in myself and that I could do this and I am capable. Just claiming back my own self-confidence.

It can be so much easier for other people to say, ‘You can’t do that’, than to try themselves.
I think also a lot of people have tall poppy syndrome, and if you’re doing well, instead of trying to help you do better they want to say, ‘She’s only getting this because of this, that and the other’, and maybe at the time, when Even came out, I might have believed people who said that to me because I didn’t really know myself if I could do it, and now I think this new era of me, I don’t really want to let anybody talk to me like that, and I certainly won’t believe them if they do anyway.

Therefore you are in an excellent position at quite a young stage in life, because it can take people decades to get to that point.
Well, thank you, yes – it feels a lot better to be surrounded by people who are trying to push you up instead of bring you down.          

I’m just thinking about those songs that you took to the studio that didn’t make it onto the EP – are they tucked away for future use or are they gone?
They might be for future use. I write all the time, so I have a giant pool of songs for every time I want to record – well, only two times, really. I’m not going to say I’ll never record them – I’m hoping that I might just out-write myself and there will be songs that are so much better than those that they won’t make it on to there but we’ll see what happens. There are some songs that I think, I’m still going to play live, just because they are really fun, so if people really like them they will get recorded, because you’ve got to give the people what they want [laughs].

Well, that’s right – a very good principle of entertainment. And another of your co-writers was Aleyce Simmonds. After doing some co-writing on this EP, do you prefer it or do you prefer the balance of some on your own and some with others?
I like the balance, I think. Aleyce and I wrote ‘Cash’ together, Lyn and I wrote ‘Coming Home’, and Allan Caswell and I wrote ‘Second Fiddle’. Aleyce was the first co-write I’ve ever done and I was really nervous, because when I’m writing songs it’s just a weird process for everyone, I think, and sometimes to share it with other people can get a bit daunting. She was lovely and we had a great time together and wrote a really great song, so I’m really glad that she was my first co-write and it wasn’t some terrible train wreck [laughs]. I really like having the balance, and also sometimes I think when you have a really tough song that you know it’s good, it’s really nice to be with somebody else who has a really fresh mindset. I’ve tried to write songs before that I know are good but my brain just … you know you’re hitting a brick wall, and I think it’s really special because music is one of the few artistic platforms that you can collaborate on, and there’s something really special about sharing stuff with other people and having them understand you, and building friendships from that is really cool.

You have a couple of shows coming up but are you looking to tour – looking ahead to Tamworth?
I am in the middle of planning a little house concert tour. We’re still taking applications, just to spread out a bit more. But I’m going on the road with my friend Ana Georgia – she’s just about to release her first EP. I’m just trying to get through the craziness of the launch shows in Gladstone and Brisbane, because they’ve been taking up a lot of my time lately, so hopefully as soon as they’re over – and hopefully they’ll be a huge success as well – we’ll be able to organise that tour and get out and meet a heap of people and share this music with everyone.

Find Lonestar on

Monday, May 22, 2017

Single release: 'Fireflies' by Ange Boxall

Tasmanian singer-songwriter Ange Boxall released her album Into the Wind towards the end of 2016, and the latest single is the ballad 'Fireflies'. Boxall has a lovely soprano voice and in this song it tells the story of a mother wanting more than the life she has now. It's a song about frustrated old dreams and plans for new dreams.

The video can be seen at Boxall's website:

You can buy the album on Bandcamp or on

Single release: 'Forget Her' by Jen Mize ft Duncan Toombs

Jen Mize's latest album, Warnings & Wisdom, has yielded a second single: the slice of wonderfulness that is 'Forget Her'. Mize was in the studio with producer Shane Nicholson when Toombs - who is well known to country music audiences as he turns up in a lot of bands playing a lot of different instruments - stopped by to record backing vocals. Mize was so impressed by what she heard that she rewrote 'Forget Her' as a duet. Once you hear this song, you will understand why. Mize's rich, honeyed, husky tones are so well balanced by Toombs, and the song is a bittersweet rendering of longing, hope and pragmatism.

This is a song you'll want to play over and over - which you can do by watching the video below. You can also buy Warnings & Wisdom on

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Album review: Gilded by Jade Jackson

A small amount of research on Californian singer-songwriter Jade Jackson will reveal that Lucinda Williams – I want to call her a troubadour, but perhaps ‘raconteur’ is better – is an influence on her music. That influence is there in Jackson’s singing style, in the way she is sometimes tempted to flatten a note to emphasise it, and in her willingness to mine the less shiny parts of life, but its impression doesn’t last long. At the risk of offending Williams fans, let’s just say that Jackson is a singer and Williams is, well, a raconteur. That’s Williams’s style, but Jackson’s instincts as a singer are stronger than any influence, and they will likely become stronger as time goes on and she feels more comfortable in her own musical identity.

This is not to suggest that Jackson doesn’t sound comfortable – more, that there is a rich, rounded, gutsy voice there and it sometimes feels like she’s holding it back. Of course, that means there is certainly more ahead for her fans: more layers to peel back, more depths to plunge into. And there is a lot already on Gilded, which could be defined as country-blues-rock and which would also respond well to the label announcement – as in, Jackson has announced her arrival.

There is no way to properly define or describe talent – there aren’t many words for it, just that one word – and it’s clear Jackson has it in spades. It’s also clear that she has the work behind her to actually make something of it: the songs each have a story and a purpose; they are cleanly constructed and thoughtfully executed. This album is not the creation of someone who rushed that announcement. There are no bad or even half-baked songs here, only songs that will grab you right away and hang around for a long while, welcome visitors all.

The opening track, ‘Aden’, is a lost-love track but even as Jackson sings ‘you are tearing me apart’, she doesn’t sound sorry for herself, and the beat of the song suggests she’s moving forwards even as she’s looking back. ‘Finish Line’ was released as a single along with what looked like an autobiographical video, although it seems that all the songs on Gilded are drawn from Jackson’s personal experiences. ‘Motorcycle’ is a riveting, growling declaration of self-sufficiency. There is sentimentality on this album, as on ‘Back When’, but it’s of the reflective, not sappy, kind.

The album was produced by Mike Ness of punk-rock band Social Distortion, but Ness has certainly not tried to turn Jackson into a mini-me. Rather, it sounds as though he’s used what he knows about songs done economically for their own good and applied the principles on Gilded. There are few instruments, and Jackson’s voice is the main attraction, as it should be. Because we can hear her quickly we can hear all the emotion in her songs, as well as the imperfections that make them more perfect.

Gilded is out now from ANTI-

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Interview: D Henry Fenton

Singer-songwriter D Henry Fenton is Australian in origin and now divides his time between his homeland and the US. Fenton has opened shows for acts including Keith Urban, Kasey Chambers, The Corrs, John Mayer and Colbie Caillat. He released his third studio album, Twice I Fell Down Once, in April and recently played some shows in his homeland accompanied by his band, The Elizabethans. I spoke to him by phone while he was in Sydney.

I know you’re in Australia visiting from the United States and I was looking on your website and saw that you’d taken a photo of a clip from a Kalgoorlie newspaper and in that paper they called you an ‘LA singer’ – do you feel more LA than Australian these days?
These days I’m kind of mixing between them both because I’m spending time here and there now, whereas when I did that I was mainly based in Los Angeles. But I feel an affinity for both, actually.

What’s prompted you to come back here more?
I’ve been in LA since 2006. I was there for eight years and then I got homesick or something. I started coming back more regularly because Australia’s an amazing place. It’s a lot more peaceful. I miss the energy from here – as soon as you get off the plane in LA it’s bang, it’s almost like this energy coming up through the ground, whereas in Sydney – or Australia – it’s a lot more laidback, which is good too in a different way.

I think a lot of us Sydneysiders would think there’s not a lot laidback about Sydney any more – however, we do have a lovely harbour.
You do have a lovely harbour. I’m staying in Taylor Square, near Oxford Street [in Darlinghurst] and that’s a bit of a bustle there but it’s still chilled.

What I didn’t find in my research was a reason why you first went to the United States.
Ah, it was a girl. I never, ever thought I’d spend any time in America, growing up. I always wanted to go to London. But I live in the US now.

When you went, presumably with guitar in hand, did you think you’d try to get a musical foothold there or did it just kind of happen.
I just wanted something different in my life. I’d always been playing but I just took my guitar because it’s my hobby. Paul McCartney says it’s his hobby so if he says that it’s probably all right for me. A lot of people say, ‘It’s my life, man’ – I’m going, ‘Yeah, right, okay.’ There’s more to life, you know. But I took the guitar and ended up doing okay, and I got a record deal over there – that was my first album. Just started playing over there and eventually found some like-minded people, got a little band together, and I flew out the bass player – she came out for this little tour we did [Fenton has just toured Australia]. My drummer, Dave Krusen, his first band was Pearl Jam – he played on the Ten record. So he got inducted into the Hall of Fame the other day, so he couldn’t come out.

[Laughs] That’s the best reason ever.
I know, right? [Laughs] He’s a really cool guy. When I first got there he goes, ‘Henry, I really like your stuff’, and I said, ‘Oh thanks.’ I didn’t know who he was at the time – I knew he was a drummer – but I found out later. He said, ‘Anytime you want me to play I’d really like it.’ So he’s been playing with us for about two and a half years now.

It’s one thing to try to make your connections in a city the size of Sydney, but with so many more people playing music in LA, what was it like finding your people?
I think you just get lucky. I found this little bar called Craig’s – I got taken there in the first week or two I was there, and there was a whole bunch of like-minded folk there, a community there, and we all sort of bonded. There was a girl called Lizzie from there – she’s played out here a bit and been quite successful. Elle King, too, she was from that scene – Xs and Os singer. A band called Truth and Salvage Company. Andy Clockwise – he’s an Aussie and he’s in that scene too. Have you heard of him?

Look, I’m fairly entrenched in country music these days, so … no.
When I write it just seems to come out in a country way. I don’t try. People say it’s kind of like a Tom Petty, Neil Young-ish thing.

I actually used to disparage country music. But I think if you’re interested in storytelling, the genre is really set up for it more than any other genre, and there’s a lot of flexibility musically speaking, so you can take the heart of country and also connecting to your audience – take those principles but still be a bit loose around what you’re doing musically but find that country audience regardless.
Someone said to me it’s the only white music with any soul, and I kind of agree.

You mentioned your band – how did The Elizabethans get their name?
Oh gosh, I don’t know – I remember seeing something on TV and thinking, Oh, the Elizabethans, and my name’s Henry, so I thought maybe I’d just call my band that. But it’s a bit of a mouthful. But people, when they hear it, say, ‘That kind of works’.

Now you’re saying it like that, I can see it. You could call yourself Henry the Eighth and the Elizabethans.
Yeah, I don’t know – he wasn’t such a nice cat.

And with a reduced band you’ve had your Australian tour, so how did that go?

I think pretty well. People seemed to really dig the music. We sold quite a few CDs. Adelaide was tough because they had the Adelaide Crows versus Port Adelaide [AFL] game and that was 50 000 people, sold out, and Adelaide’s not a big town. And Tim Rogers was playing around the corner. We did all right but we would have done a lot better without that going on. But the owner, she loved it and we made some friends and fans. The tour’s just basically to let people know that there’s a record out.

Speaking of that record – it’s said to be about ‘ghosts, love, obsession and revenge’. Have the ghosts been exorcised?
No, they’re still floating around. I’m not sure what ghosts are any more … No, they’re still around. I was trying to describe what I was writing about. There’s a song called ‘Love is a Tough Commodity’ on the record and one of the lines is, ‘Ghosts in my vision and my spirit’s on the run’.

So that’s where the ghosts have come from. Everyone lives with them, I guess, and clearly they can be good fodder for lyrics.
Exactly. I think I want to do a clip for that song. I’m imagining some party and kids in sheets poking their heads around the corner and I’m the only one who can see them.

And I was also interested in the idea of revenge: do you think it’s a dish best served cold?
Yeah, it is. You can’t get emotional about it. I’m not a vengeful person but that song … a lot of the stuff I write about is inspired from my life, as a lot of songwriters draw from. It was just someone in my life who wasn’t the sweetest person. I thought ‘an eye for an eye’.

And the great thing about having the ability to create art is that you can take something in your life that has felt a certain way and transform it into something else so that someone else gets to relate to it for their own life.
I find that with other people’s songs, too. That song in particular – the revenge song, ‘you step on me and I’ll step on you’ – I started singing in French. There’s this lyric and I didn’t know what it was saying, and it was, ‘The sea is me and the sea is you’. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, we’re all part of this but if you cross me I’ll cross you back.’ But as a person I wouldn’t necessarily do that, but the person in the song [would].

Writing a song is a little way of doing that, but a gentle way.
And it’s a detached way of doing it because you’re not quite as involved.

The other word that interested me was ‘obsession’ – can any musician really be non-obsessive?
No, they’re all obsessive, I reckon. Some may hide it, but … That one’s a song called ‘Down Your Street’, which is basically a song about driving down your ex’s street, for not fiendish motives but just a reflection or accidentally [doing it] – ‘I wonder what they’re doing’. One of those songs.

Even though, as you say, guitar is a hobby, musicians at your level of creation and touring and production of albums, there’s that element of always wanting to improve on your hobby.
Oh yeah, absolutely. I’d love to build my audience and stuff. A lot of people have said, ‘You deserve more from this’, and if it happens, that’s great. I’m doing everything that I can. I’m getting a radio promoter in the US to push the album. I’ve already sent it to him and he really digs it and he’s already picked the songs that he thinks might do okay over there. And I have Karen Waters and Stuart Coupe helping here.

It’s also just thinking of that – giving it to a radio promoter. In the olden days, which weren’t that long ago, there was that really limited time in which to get your music to people. For better or worse, with the way things are now with streaming and whatnot, albums can take on different forms. So you’ve created that body of work but in terms of how people listen to and the lifespan it may have, it’s a lot more unpredictable now how long it will last and who it will reach and how.
Totally. People bring out records all the time now, famous acts, and they just fly by and you don’t hear of them. Tom Petty put an album out not so long ago ... It’s just tracks now. Apparently Drake’s the one who’s the master of just putting singles out, or just streaming songs. He’s got such a huge audience, he can do that. I don’t know if the album’s dead or not – I keep reading that it is. I’m in the old-fashioned way but I just wanted to record those songs and put them out. What do you do? I’m not sure.

I think an album’s an art form much like a novel, in that it’s longer-form storytelling. And where you can’t really take chapters out of a novel and have them make sense, you can take singles out of an album and have them make sense. But if you’re the one who’s created that longer form, it’s not easy to say, ‘I’ll just give up that longer-form storytelling.’
No. It’s hard to do that. Next year I’m going to put out an EP of Howlin’ Wolf songs that I’ve recorded and then do another album, I think. The title of this album – Twice I Fell Down Once – I was reading a book on Woody Guthrie. He had a few children and one of his kids died in a house fire when she was nine, in the late ’40s. Her name was Cathy, and she’d say these little things to Woody, and he used to love them and write them down. One of them was, ‘Twice I fell down once’. It was just so beautiful. I wrote it down in a book and then a few years later I came across it and thought, That’s what I’m going to call my record. I thanked Cathy Guthrie on the record too.

In terms of how you create your songs, are you the sort of person who writes bits and pieces down and then collects them later?
Yes, I do that. I can collect fragments over time and then put them together. The tunes can come together all at once but I’ll work them a little bit. I’ll have a little bit then work out a little bit more. These days I’m trying to find something to write about, too. I hate repeating myself musically – I don’t want to write a similar tune to something else I’ve done, or a lyric. So it takes me a little while until I can find something that I think is more unique. I had a friend who told me, ‘I based a groove around this Jonathan Wilson song’, and I never do that. I don’t try to copy any song, I just write the song and give it to my band and then we play it a bit, and that’s how it comes out.

Do you tend to head into the studio with more songs than you need orhave you already curated your selection by that stage?
A few more. There’s a few songs that didn’t make the cut. I usually go in with a bunch and then that gives me a reason to write more songs. Because I really love recording. It’s really therapeutic because you’re trying to work out harmonies – ‘What if we played a nice tune here to balance countermelodies?’ I really like doing harmonies and guitar lines, working them out. It’s just fun. I just like it. It’s great. And for me to do that, I need songs.

The relationship between mathematics and music is established – and what you’re describing there sounds like working out mathematical puzzles.
It is. And I think it’s already there – the songs are already written. I always try to make things simple, too. This album is kind of different. The last two albums have been singer-songwriter and I’ve hired different bass players and drummers when I was in different towns and got the best I could do. But this one’s just the band and a couple of friends added a few things because I thought it might be fun. But it’s just me, Dave and Mary Beth pretty much on everything. And people seem to be reacting to it a bit better than the last one, which I thought wasn’t a bad record.

If you’ve been playing with them for a while they’re now collaborators, which gives a different energy to what you’ve created.
Yep. And Mary Beth, my bass player, we co-wrote a song on the record – ‘Dusty Wings’. I don’t know if you have the record.

I do. I’ve listened to it – several times.
Thanks for having a listen. I’m never sure if people listen to stuff.

If I’m going to talk to you I like to listen – also because I’m interested in people’s musical lineages, so I like to listen to hear if there’s a lineage there or not.
Can you hear any influences in it?

Not really – which is why it’s interesting that you said you don’t base what you do off others’ work. I can hear that in your music. I can’t hear a direct reference to anything.
I really try to just let it all flow, just me and the band, rather than copy a groove. But apparently [copying] is how a lot of people write. I’m not saying that’s bad, I just don’t know how they do it.

Twice I Fell Down Once is out now.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Album review: Chuck Westmoreland

This is another from my better-late-than-never files: an album that was released at the end of 2016 yet, of course, the date is not relevant to how the music sounds, and in the case of Chuck Westmoreland's self-titled debut solo LP, that's largely because the music is timeless will still being of its time.

I'm fond of using the word 'troubadour' when it applies - not that I do it often. It's a useful word because it contains so much: the notion of, usually, a man who can tell a story in song and carry people along with him so well that those people almost seem bewitched. It's a great example of how beautifully useful language can be: one word to convey all that. 'Troubadour' isn't usually associated with someone who has rock 'n' roll sensibility but there's no reason it couldn't be. In Westmoreland's case, it fits.

While this is Westmoreland's solo debut, it's not his first rodeo: he was in a band called The Kingdom that sounds like it had very little in common, musically, with his sound now. That sound is country rock of the type that sounds laidback if you couldn't detect that the person making it was not at all lackadaisical about making it. It is country roads and late nights on a bar stool. It is hints of Neil Diamond and Willie Nelson and even a bit of Kenny Rogers - and if you think those references sound cheesy, you haven't been listening hard enough to the music those fine pop/rock/country artisans have produced.

Westmoreland's experience shows in the fact that these songs sound like they have been written carefully without being overworked, and he sings them as if he's had time to let them mature for a while until he understands exactly how they need to be conveyed. There's dirt under the fingernails of these songs, either because they've hauled themselves up from underneath or because they've dug for their own roots. They're sturdy, and while there's darkness in them, there's also a fair bit of reaching for the sun.

This album will carry you along with it, and bewitch you a bit too, so the next time this troubadour comes to town, you'll no doubt welcome his arrival.

Chuck Westmoreland is out now.

Single release: 'Bricks and Mortar' by Paul Crowder

Paul Crowder hails from Lithgow, NSW, and he has a terrific country sound, full of heart (and fiddles), that will appeal to those who like tones of Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell and Troy Cassar-Daley. In 2016 Crowder released the EP From the Heart and the latest single is 'Bricks and Mortar'. Listen to it on Soundcloud or the video below.

Buy From the Heart on cdbaby or

Find Paul Crowder on Facebook.

Single release: 'Baby Blue' by Smith & Jones

Sophie Jones (guitar, harmonica, vocals) from Tamworth and Abby Smith (keyboards, vocals) from Bathurst, NSW have been playing as Smith & Jones since 2013 and recently released their debut album, Dark Gives Way. From that album comes the single 'Baby Blue', a song of a woman on the run.

Smith and Jones have beautifully complementary voices that, combined, give more power to the song than they might have alone, especially for a cautionary tale like this one. And although they have been described as alt country, like many performers who are placed in that genre I tend to hear more actual country influence than anything too alt. Smith and Jones are Australian country music artists, and they sound like it, and the country music audience will recognise them as their own.

Watch 'Baby Blue' below.
Buy Dark Gives Way on

Single release: 'Save Yourself' by Ferris & Sylvester

Issey Ferris and Archie Sylvester make up English folk/Americana duo Ferris & Sylvester, and they've released their debut single, the rather lovely 'Save Yourself'. Ferris's graceful, haunting voice is anchored by Sylvester's harmonies, and they sound as though they have been playing together for years, although they only became a duo last year after experience as solo performers.

Listen to 'Save Yourself' on Spotify, Soundcloud or by playing the lyric video below.

Single release: 'Shirley Jean' by Kiefer Sutherland

Canadian singer-songwriter Kiefer Sutherland released his debut album, Down in a Hole, in August last year and I have to confess that I didn't cover it because ... well, I thought he wouldn't need the coverage. Sutherland's name will be familiar to anyone who has watched television or been to the movies over the last three decades or so - yet in thinking he wouldn't need extra attention, I missed the fact that he actually can write and sing a very good song.

Proof of that may be found in the latest single, 'Shirley Jean'. The song is also proof, if more were needed, that Sutherland knows his country music. It's clear from the construction of lyrics and the way he sings them that he's storyteller and that country music has been his natural home for those stories. His voice has been compared to Johnny Cash's and it has some of that sense of a life hard lived, although Sutherland's voice has a softer tone, which gives this tale of a death-row missive an unlikely sense of hope.

Watch the video for 'Shirley Jean' below.
Buy Down in a Hole on

Monday, May 1, 2017

Single release: 'The Pale Rider' by The Weeping Willows

From their album Before Darkness Comes A-callin', Melbourne duo The Weeping Willows have released a third single, 'Pale Rider'. There's no one quite like this band at work in Australia today - they have a traditional country music sound but it sounds like it's from the High Country of the nineteenth century rather than any other land you could name. Their music is clean and crisp yet it loves room for muddiness and mystery too. Perhaps that's a form of Australian country gothic - or perhaps this is just a great song.

Watch the video for 'Pale Rider' below.

Single release: 'Older Men & Whiskey' by Chyyanna Lee

Los Angeles resident Chyyanna Lee first entered the music business as a video producer. Now she's an artist, due to release a four-track EP later this year. The first, and title, single is 'Older Men & Whiskey'.

Chyyanna has an interesting story, growing up in 31 foster homes and 6 group homes. She used to listen to Bonnie Raitt and Janet Jackson while she rollerskated around the neighbourhood, and that solid pop and country background is evident on this song, which entertains from start to finish. The track was created with producer and multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Gorman, whose own background is in pop (Cher, Michelle Branch, Miley Cyrus) as well as rock.

Listen to 'Older Men & Whiskey' on , visit Chyyanna's website to listen on Spotify or watch the lyric video below.

Interview: Little Hurricane

American duo Little Hurricane is Anthony 'Tone' Catalano and Celeste 'CC' Spina, who met through music in San Diego several years ago and married last year. They have toured both hemispheres - including Australia - and have a new album, Same Sun Same Moon, that showcases not only their talents but the range of genres they embrace (including some country sounds). It's an album that immediately impresses and also gets under your skin. I spoke to them by phone from the USA. 

I’d like to go back to the beginning – well, to your high school jazz bands, as you were both in one – and ask what foundation those bands gave you both.
CC: I went from playing in the marching band and symphonic band, which is just one drum, snare drum, to playing the full drum kit. It was cool to be able to play some more current music and be the only drummer, because in symphonic or marching band you’re playing with a bunch of drummers but in jazz band you’re the only drummer. I learned, of course, how to read full drum kit music but also how to improvise and play drum solos, and different kinds of skillsx            , so for me it really was the foundation of playing the full drum set.
Tone: My progression with guitar was learning early on, in seventh grade, learning Nirvana songs, playing power chords, then when I got into jazz band it really opened my mind as far as improvisation as well as chord structures, and the different emotions and moods you can get out of music and guitar in general, so that really blew my mind as far as what you can accomplish with six strings. And jazz and blues have a very traditional background – certain rules – but I like taking the parts and elements out of that genre and incorporating into what we do with rock music and alternative stuff. It really opened my mind to that.

You can certainly hear on the album how both of your instruments fill the space – there’s this real sense of a complete sound going on, and that’s why I was curious to ask about that jazz background in particular.
CC: Thank you – well, that’s what we aim to do, to do the job of four people with just two of us.

When you first got together as a duo in San Diego, what was happening in the San Diego music scene at that time – was there a dominant genre?
Tone: Probably a lot of reggae, but that wasn’t necessarily our scene. All the musicians in San Diego are very encouraging and supportive of new acts. I think it’s important for a town to foster its arts and music community, to create a space and have the music venues and support system for people who are pursuing music and arts in general.

So you obviously found that support there when you began and started to develop your own sound?
Tone: Yeah, I think it would be very different if we were in LA, where there’s so many people and it’s kind of hard to even stand out. Whereas San Diego had that support system, so I have to credit them.

Once you had formed the band – you have a very cohesive and cogent sound that’s identifiably yours. How long did it take to find that musical identity?
Tone: Kind of our first rehearsal. We got together and that’s the first question we asked each other: ‘What kind of music do you play?’ We discovered we were both in jazz band and it was fun for us, so we started with that and it’s been the core of our songwriting ever since.

CC, I read that you placed an ad on Craigslist for a band member – did you have to audition
many people?
CC: No, he was the only guy that I met up with and played with. I had a lot of responses and some of them were crazy but Tone’s response, when he included his history of the artists that he’d worked with and that he was a full-time audio engineer, I knew that I was lacking experience when it came to the music industry and it seemed like he could fill that void of knowing how it really works. I had really only played in school band and with friends in high school. I’d never played a regular gig. I didn’t            know much about it. So it was a perfect complement to my lack of knowledge, with his wealth of knowledge.

Before placing that ad had you made a decision that you really wanted to pursue music, or did you just think, This might be fun, I’ll give it a go?
CC: I kind of thought it might be fun, but at the time I had just recently quit cooking. I cooked professionally for about eight years and had decided it wasn’t the right path for me. So I was bartending and I knew I didn’t want to bartend forever, but I knew I had to try different things. I never thought it would turn into a career or a full-time job but I was ready for something different in my life.

But what you had been doing before was creative work – it’s hard work, cooking, but also creative – so you obviously have this creative drive through your life.
Yes, I like doing things with my hands. Cooking, crafting, playing drums – it’s fun for me. And it’s nice to be seated for a while. I spent eight years standing in a kitchen and now I’m the one who gets to sit on stage.

So, Tone, as you were an audio engineer, does that inform how you listen to your own music when you’re working or are you able to separate what you’re creating as a band and come at it from a different angle?
Tone: It does help to have another perspective at the end to let you know if it’s good or not, but I think the background I have in audio engineering really helps as far as being in a band. The reason why I got into it, I was in a band in high school and we’d go into recording studios and I didn’t know what to say in terms they could understand to make it sound the way I wanted it to sound in my head. So I ended up learning and it really helped refine the sounds we wanted to achieve, and I think it goes hand in hand, so it’s more of a benefit, for sure.

I can certainly hear on this album that appreciation for sound – the sound is big and complete, and it’s also really clean. So it sounds like all of these skills have coalesced.
Tone: And I think it’s important for any musician – you could write the best song in the world but if something sounds harsh or abrasive it’s not going to go anywhere and I think it doesn’t serve the song. The song has to be in the best position possible for people to enjoy it.

The two of you have a personal and creative partnership, so I’m really interested in how your songwriting works – whether you set aside time for it or it’s a spontaneous effort, and also if you have a process.
Tone: Songs could come from anywhere, so it’s probably happening whether you like it or not whether I’m in the shower humming a tune or in the middle of the night or doing soundcheck on tour. So you never know when a song will pop up or inspiration            will be, so the point is just being ready for it and at some point recording it when you can.

When it came to this album did you have a lot of songs to choose from or did you write with this album in mind?
Tone: It took over three years, the process, so we did have a lot of songs. We write them all but at a certain point you have to see which songs fit best together to make the album complete, so we did have to cut a bunch – I forget how many exactly.
CC: I think we’ll have an extra six or seven songs. We’ll be putting some of them out as a B side. We wanted to pick those ones that told the story collectively and hopefully we picked the right ones.

There are a few different influences there but it does all work as a whole sonically – it does feel like an arc through the album, but each song has its own role.
CC: And we put out the first single that sounds very different to the other songs and people will judge it based on one song, but nobody wants to see an artist paint the same painting over and over again. We’re trying to put together a catalogue and collection that is dynamic and interesting to keep listening to as we grow as artists.

I was reading that you’ve made a few changes for this album – new timbres and a broader scope – ‘changes that underscore the band’s desire to transcend its dirty blues roots and connect with a wider range of music lovers’. I’m interested in that connection with the wider range of music lovers – as songwriters, how might that have changed what you do, and also as performers?
Tone: We called ourselves dirty blues because when people ask what your genre is as we started the band we thought that described blues with more grit and grime and distortion. But every song is different and we try to push the boundaries of what we can do as two musicians.
CC: And I think collectively it goes back to the album title of Same Sun Same Moon – we’re all on the same planet, we want to connect with everyone in our own way, reaching a broader demographic of people we kind of just want to bring people together. If you love country and someone else really loves aggressive rock ’n’ roll, you can find two different songs on the same record – you can love the record and not love the same songs. I think it’s important for us to try to bring people together through music.

As I’ve just realised I’m fast running out of time, I’m going to ask the perhaps shallow question and ask you about the TV shows and ads your songs have appeared on – is it kind of strange to hear your song being played on television?
CC: I think it’s really encouraging. Sometimes it’s strange when we don’t know what scene a song is going to be used in. We had one song that was about my grandmother passing away and the love my grandfather had for her and they ended up using it on a show called Mistresses where it was like a sultry love-making scene in the background and we weren’t expecting to see that. You know, everyone has their own interpretation of the songs, so it made it kind of fun. I think my grandma was laughing up in heaven.

Same Sun Same Moon is out now through Mascot Label Group.