'Feral Fusion' Review
In recent years Freya Josephine Hollick has been a name claiming special attention for her impressive singing and writing. Aware of this growing reputation, I bought this album out of a bit of curiosity and to hear what Shane Reilly was up to, as he's one of the most gifted musicians working in roots music at present. Certainly, I wasn't prepared for something as assured, sophisticated and inspired as Feral Fusion. The title suggests an amalgam of non-mainstream styles and it is certainly that. The list of performers in the dedication "to the people who made the music that inspired this album" is as eclectic as it is accurate. The cover art is a collage of seemingly disparate images; a bit of Bosch here, some movie and documentary stills there, with the singer confidently riding an angry giant Serval the central focus. However, there's nothing ad hoc about this record, no melding for melding's sake. Hollick's writing and singing are of
apiece allowing her voice to inhabit her beautiful melodies, Killer titles such as 'On A Mission To Kill All The Hatred In Man', Jesus Hates It When You Smoke', 'Breakfast Of Smalltown Champions' and Vapour Of A Man' show an artist with a keen sense of humour, and the wry lyrical observations within these songs share something well beyond the sometimes overtly worthy tone adopted by many roots performers. Hollick and producer Roger Bergodaz have assembled a range of players to realise the breadth of these songs. The choice of Sam Lemann as accompanist on the acoustic tracks is inspired. His faultless technique and phrasing accentuates Hollick's vocal, maintaining the intimacy of her songs. Elsewhere, Thomas Brooks and Jacob McGuffie provide assured and sympathetic guitar parts - the shimmering reverb reverie that concludes 'Like A Dog Upon A Bone' is a delight - while Ben Franz adds his double bass and pedal steel. Bergodaz doubles on drums and bass for all but one song, providing rhythmic cohesion on all tracks. A push pull tracking approach paces the collection: a few band tracks - both orchestrated and guitar centric, then a vocal and acoustic guitar duo piece. A determinedly old school approach in the age of Spotify and evidence that this is something meant to be played from beginning to end. Opening song and first single 'Mister One Time' points a mockingly damning finger at a certain kind of opportunistic would-be lothario, while the second, 'The Devil You Know' is a poignant meditation on single motherhood. 'On A Mission To Kill All The Hatred in Man' contemplates the infinite with delicacy and wit, yet avoids anything awkward through Reilly's mischievous and inspired Gos hyper country politan arrangement with its string and pedal steel interplay. Indeed, his guitar - standard and baritone, orchestrations and deeply sensitive pedal steel are highlights throughout the album.
The centrepiece of the record is 'Love Lingers On', a ballad so sweeping and timeless that it seems to exist in its own universe. Reilly and Bergodaz build an arrangement worthy of all the great hanky weepies; yet locate it somewhere between plaintive Willie Nelson or Loretta Lynn and a sort of 60's sci-fi kookiness, without losing its contemporary authority. Listen for Reilly's muted guitar chords, vibes and pedal steel and you hear something Richard Hawley might conjure while Hollick reflects on lost love as something elemental yet transcendent and eternal with imagery evoking the mysteries of nature. The Romantic poets used to rabbit on about the sublime; when Hollick sings the word you feel that something perfect yet perfectly incommunicable has somehow been delivered. My record collection sometimes seems to groan under the weight of melancholy ballads. This year alone John Prine has given us 'Summer's End', Willie Nelson 'Something You Get Through', Ry Cooder 'Harbor Of Love' and The Milk Carton Kids an entire broken-hearted album, All The Things I Did And All The Things I Didn't Do. And that's just a few blokes, Add to these Love Lingers On.
The remaining songs are no less assured; deft lyric details, lilting melodies sympathetic arrangements and superb playing are the cornerstones. It is a credit to the dedication of the players and producer that a recording made with a modest budget can sound so rich and rewarding. However, while the arrangements and playing are significant the focus is certainly on Hollick. Having absorbed such a range of old time and contemporary vocal approaches she has developed an instrument that, with seeming effortlessness, coaxes power and melodic nuances from her wellcrafted material. All her lyrics align with her melodies; Stray syllables aren't allowed, yet the relaxed confidence of her delivery belies the discipline required to realise such affective songwriting. These are very Strong songs, the equal of any released by artists with much higher profiles. The roots, Americana, alt-country, call-it-what-you-will label is a sort of outpost in Australia. Artists here often fight against mainstream indifference, nevertheless creating music for loyal, if small audiences. In other parts of the world it holds a significant demographic; festivals abound with many acts making a noise as they lob their work into the mainstream. Freya Josephine Hollick has just received a significant grant from Creative Victoria to enable her to develop and expand her recording opportunities. A nomination from National Live Music Awards for best live country artist of the year, a gong voted on by fellow musicians, media, venues and bookers, shows that her songs and recordings are part of a whole artist package. The 'real deal' cliché is thrown around so much that it might as well be selling toothpaste. However, the evidence in this record has nothing to do with tedious cliché of course, it's a signpost to an artist growing at such a pace that Hollick will surely surpass her already shining reputation.
★★★★☆ THE AGE 01 MAY 2015 – By Martin Boulton
Raised By Eagles
DIAMONDS IN THE BLOODSTREAM
In just a couple of years this Melbourne quartet fronted by chief songwriter Luke Sinclair have delivered two of the finest alt-country albums you’ll find in many, many miles. In the great tradition of long-established bands like Wilco, but in a fraction of the time, Raised By Eagles have woven lovingly crafted lyrics and arrangements with crisp, clean playing and sweet harmonies. Guest vocalists including Liz Stringer and Tracy McNeil add extra charm on backing duties while the warm, welcoming tone of Nick O’Mara’s lap steel will ease you back into the comfort of this 35-minute journey. Window Seat and Honey are standouts but it’s hard to pick favourites when each track gets treated with so much care. – Martin Boulton
WINNERS OF THE AGE MUSIC VICTORIA AWARDS
Best Country Album
Presented by Allans Billy Hyde
Diamonds in the Bloodstream RAISED BY EAGLES
Best Emerging Artist
Presented by Travel Beyond Group & Bigsound
RAISED BY EAGLES
The Tunnel At The End Of The Light holds the distinction not only of being one of the most moving albums Tex Perkins has yet released, but also one of the best. With its incredibly touching humanistic bent and the gentle yet intoxicating musicianship of the Dark Horses on display throughout, it is a fine record indeed, as gentle and chilling as an autumn breeze, and yet grounded and unpretentious in a deeply thrilling way.
Album opener Lucky Me sets the tone for the proceedings. Though soft and subtle, the lyric stings, as Perkins repeats ‘oh lucky, lucky me’ in a laconic drawl that feels moments away from breaking into sardonic laughter. Indeed, the darker The Tunnel At The End Of The Light gets, the funnier it is. Perkins’ talents as a wordsmith have always been underrated, and the album’s title track in particular shows off the man’s words at their most polished and precise. ‘What makes you think you’re in the right?’ Perkins probes in a voice that sounds more resigned than accusatory.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? borrows both its title and a sense of shattering world weariness from Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel. As with the rest of the album, it is deeply moving, and manages to engage with the darker elements of the human condition without ever getting so esoteric that it loses sight of the listener, or becomes dry and considered. This is music that aims to connect on the deepest, most primal of levels, and it succeeds in droves.
Perkins’ voice has always impressed, but on All Is Quiet his timbres reach levels of beauty and complexity his work in the past has only hinted at. Similarly, his Dark Horses, a band made up of underrated Australian legends (including Joel Silbersher of GOD fame, and Charlie Owen of The New Christs) are on fine, fine form. Collectively, they play in a way that is airy and light, and yet incredibly precise.
Slide on By, an eight minute sun blasted ballad, is the album’s Rosetta stone, containing as it does everything that makes the record great. It’s psychedelic; it’s tough; it’s dark; but above all else, it is beautiful. It’s Tex Perkins and his Dark Horses at their best, as indeed The Tunnel At The End Of The Light is from beginning to end. Brutal, brilliant and beautiful, it’s a career high from a musician for whom almost every album is a new career high.
5 / 5 stars
"Lost Ragas have created an album of timeless quality, full of dark and graceful beauty."
Chris Familton 'The Music"
Jun 17th 2015 | Label: Independent
Matt Walker has been a stalwart of the roots music scene for more than two decades now and with Lost Ragas may have found his perfect musical marriage.
The quartet truly embodies the phrase ‘cosmic country’, serving up a sound that mixes classic country, light psychedelia, ‘70s singer/songwriter and rock’n’roll. It’s like Sturgill Simpson and Beck jamming with the ghost of Harry Nilsson as they effortlessly meld clever songwriting with exceptional playing that always conveys just the right feel. Lost Ragas have created an album of timeless quality, full of dark and graceful beauty.
RHYTHMS MAGAZINE - FEATURE RELEASES
JIMMY DOWLING, COMMON LOT - VITAMIN
Recently I have been re-reading Matthew Crawford's 2009 book Shop Class As Soulcraft in which he argues that technology has disempowered us. I have to agree.
Jimmy Dowling's new album is the perfect example of true "soulcraft." It will not make the ARIA charts yet it is far superior to almost everything that appears there. Dowling will not fill stadiums but if you catch him in a little pub somewhere he could make you cry. Listening to Common Lot is like stumbling across a lovingly built artefact in some out of the way store — something that you can cherish but which others might never have the joy of witnessing.
Dowling has worked around the world and now lives in northern New South Wales. He has the voice of someone who has lived life not read about in newspapers or seen it in a television documentary: it is "worldly," not world weary, and he sings about the sorts of things that affect us all— love, success, aging, drinking, the landscape.
He also writes with the keen eye of a poet: the images stay with you long after a song has finished. He is a storyteller par excellence and you get the feeling that he might have a fine novel in him if he ever has the patience. Even a song such as the slightly swaggering and staggering 'Vodka's Calling My Name', with lyrics so minimal they do not even appear in the enclosed lyric booklet, is still stunning (and sounds as if it was written for Tom Waits).
Common Lot was recorded in Melbourne at the Tender Trap studios with co-producers Roger Bergodaz and Garrett Costigan, both of whom between them also contribute guitar, drums and backing vocals. Costigan adds his famous pedal steel flourishes on two tracks and dobro on others. Other accomplices include Matt Walker and Red Rivers on guitar, Steve Hadley (double bass), Andy Baylor on fiddle and Tony Hargreaves (piano accordion, piano).
'Calendar Girl' opens the album with a meditation on change and vivid images of "swarf and grinding burs," "crofton weeds and oleanders." 'Broken Down Cowboy' is adorned by Matt Walker's pleading guitar emphasising the yearning as Dowling sings about being a "bruised raggedy little toy. Looking like desperation in all that noise."
In 'Rhetorical Questions' Dowling sings of "rusty dog spikes and old bottles with painted labels" while Bay-Ior's lonesome fiddle haunts the back-ground. 'Walking Mistake' features a full ensemble that fleshes out a gently rolling song redolent with memories. 'Queenslander' traces the demise of an old house and you can almost picture its "castle of wood decaying." 'A Concertina And The Portuguese Waltz' begins with a strident guitar line (from Dean Droulliard) and closes with a striking guitar solo of which Neil Young would be proud!
Common Lot might have arrived unheralded but it is beautifully crafted and, if you are wavering, can make you believe in the power music again.
BY BRIAN WISE