Friday, 28 September 2012

Comment - Impressions Of BigSound

Standing outside the Judith Wright Centre on bustling Brunswick Street, I’m drawn into conversation with a man who tells me he has hollow toes.  It’s an eerie thing to say and I shrink back behind my smudgy aviators a little, drawing a bit harder on my cigarette in an attempt to work out if he’s having a go.

The lanyard hanging around his neck tells me he’s a conference delegate though, not one of the countless indigent oddballs that regularly haunt Fortitude Valley, where Brisbane’s barrel-bottom meets its drunken elite.  Another quick glance at the lanyard tells me he’s a manager of some sort.  I let the toes comment go, and we talk about brands of tobacco instead – not music or anything, strangely enough – as I wait for Marty to emerge from the Performance Space where he’s just interviewed Clare Bowditch.

It’s conversations like these which define this three day industry event, odd snippets that later can’t be pieced together into any one conversation, a collection of talk that I’m not so sure I really contributed to.  Being talked at is the order of the day here – it is the music industry after all, an industry which is rapidly shrinking and so people say as much as they can in the seemingly short time they have left before their job evaporates and they find themselves freelancing or making coffee.

I only have one ‘proper’ meeting scheduled, and it’s over in six and a half minutes, before we’ve even gotten to the bar to buy a drink.  I deem it a success however, and get myself a drink regardless, which I sip in the sun in the RG’s beer garden with the drunken Irishmen and heavily tattooed construction workers.  I read The Australian and feel out of place but oddly comfortable.

I sit in on a panel discussion entitled Streams Of Consciousness, which is attempting to dissect the effect streaming services like Spotify and Rdio will have on the industry over the next five or ten years.  There’s no one from Spotify present on the panel, which is quite interesting given they’re the market leader at this point in time. However, the remaining panelists dig deep and sitting in the dark up the back of the room, I feel informed and like I know what’s going on.  It’s nice to have people talking around me, not to me.

Later on, I find myself in the same room listening to another panel entitled Getting Back To Our Roots, a discussion centered around roots music which quickly spirals into an hour long back and forth on what, exactly, roots music is.  No one can settle on any one explanation though, and so it seems like an hour wasted and I make a quick exit and jump on a train out to Wilston, where I’m staying, to get some work done.  We’re on deadline this week, after all.

Money For Rope
Electric Playground is a club of some sort, a dark and dingy place where the faint of heart should fear to tread, but this week it’s one of many venues around the Valley playing host to live music as part of the conference.  It’s odd standing down the front, wreathed in dry ice smoke, sipping Jack Daniels and bobbing your head to the twin-guitar attack of someone like Melbourne quintet Money For Rope, who are the complete antithesis of the neon lights, the disco balls, the giant mirrors and raised platforms of a place like this.  But they play like no one’s watching and score big, in my opinion.  You can’t judge a band by its surrounds.  That would be folly indeed.

I have never seen so many iPhones in one place at the one time.  The conference has it’s own app, which accounts for a lot of the techno-flurry – who to see and when to see them?  But then when you throw Twitter and Facebook and emails and text messages into the mix, it’s a backlit wasteland, no matter where you are.  In panel discussions, seeing bands, walking between venues, in one of the many cheap eateries around the place, during conversations – those little Jobs’ creations are flickering and fluttering and buzzing all over the place like a swarm of angry locusts heralding our ultimate demise.  I’m sick of mine as a result, I barely pull it out and as such I miss my train home on more than one occasion.  Perhaps I should buy a watch.

Free bacon and egg rolls, along with bloody Marys, get a fair number of delegates out and about come the Friday morning, faces swollen with drink, business card stocks running low, shoe leather worn thin, vocal chords mere stringy shadows of their former selves.  We sit in the sun, not really talking, consuming the free food, the fat and the salt soothing our savage breast and I throw a long black into the mix, roll a smoke, and all is well.

Clare Bowditch
Marty goes off to prepare for his chat with Clare and I find a seat in the air-conditioned auditorium, listen for an hour or so and relax, try to get it all together before the drive home.  I wait outside for him afterwards and end up talking to my man with the hollow toes, and to be honest, it’s a relief to have such a conversation, albeit a strange one, as it’s so far removed from what I’ve heard these three days just gone. 

Still, it was a happening man.  This industry of ours is shrinking at a rate of knots, but it’s still there and so are we, and so we get together to share information once a year, we get together to watch music, we get together to drink and talk and some of us listen.  It’s an interesting phenomenon, but a worthwhile one and I’ll be back next year, sans iPhone, steeling myself for a tsunami of talk, because it’s all about the music, that much we know for sure.

Samuel J. Fell

Record Review - Mia Dyson

Commissioned for the EG section of The Age, but not published.

Mia Dyson
The Moment
Black Door Records / MGM


With the release of new record The Moment, Mia Dyson has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is one of this country’s most important young artists.  For despite the fact her previous three releases have captured hearts and minds alike, encapsulating as they did her rough-hewn yet whiskey-smooth voice, her formidable guitar prowess and the inherent honesty prevalent in her songwriting, it’s this new one which is set to propel her above and beyond.

Crossing a wide range of styles under the roots umbrella – from lilting country-tinged balladry to grinding rock ‘n’ soul to bluesy twang – Dyson pulls together the pain and the anguish, the happiness and joy she’s endured these three years past whilst residing in the US, to create a thundering statement of intent, songs so real they hurt.

Opener, ‘When The Moment Comes’, builds into a huge, lumbering beast, her guitar at the forefront; ‘Tell Me’ tugs at your heartstrings with a refrain that’ll rend you in twain; ‘Cigarettes’ burns slow and strong, a gutsy Lucinda Williams-esque number that ties up an album for the ages.  This record, this collection of ten songs, was the moment Mia Dyson became great.

Samuel J. Fell

Feature - Saskwatch

Published in the EG section of The Age, Friday September 28.
For online version, click here

Melbourne at the moment is funk ‘n’ soul city.  You can barely leave the house without feeling the bass, the groove and the good times, and one reason for this is local nine-piece Saskwatch.  “I honestly couldn’t tell you [why Melbourne is so funky] right now,” laughs trumpeter Liam McGorry.  “It’s such an amazing scene though… to have all these amazing bands in the one place… too many to name, I’ve never been anywhere else like it.”

“It probably has something to do with The Bamboos starting ten to 12 years ago, and obviously Melbourne has such an iconic music scene… it does seem like Melbourne has become a melting pot for this sort of stuff,” he adds.  There’s always been a simmering funk and soul scene down here for sure, but with the emergence of bands like The Bamboos and Deep Street Soul, and more recently Saskwatch, Cactus Channel and Clairy Browne, it’s become a full-blown epidemic, shimmying up to our veritable rock scene, and hip-bumping it off to the side.

Saskwatch themselves formed around three years ago, meeting at the VCA and bonding over a love of old school soul, amongst other styles, which at first glance seems odd for ones so young.  “Well, soul for me is one of my favourite sorts of music,” McGorry counters, “I love it, I can’t really think of anything else I like better.  And being in Melbourne, with this scene, it’s a pretty regular thing.”

In addition to the sounds of old, Saskwatch are also channeling the new, tapping into the vibes being laid down in New York by The Menahan Street Band and the Budos Band out of Daptone Records.  “We listen to a lot of other new stuff too, like Dr. Dog and Alabama Shakes, it’s all music related to having soul, that’s what we bring.”

This has all played in the band’s favour, particularly over the past 12 months.  Saskwatch have found themselves supporting Earth, Wind & Fire and Maceo Parker, along with appearances at Golden Plains, last year’s Falls Festival and, most recently, the Edinburgh Festival, to much acclaim.  In amongst all this too, has been the release of debut LP Leave It All Behind, a sonic slab reminiscent of a time gone by, which these youngsters have brought back to life, fashioned for the now.

“We thought maybe just a few friends would buy it,” McGorry smiles.  “But it’s been great, we can’t ask for anything more, it’s just been heaps of fun and we can’t wait to do the next one.”  That next one, incidentally, isn’t far off.  These guys are young and hungry, the world their funky oyster.

Samuel J. Fell

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Record Review - Various Artists

Published in the Metro section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 21st.

Various Artists
Banished Now From My Native Shore: The Verse Of Frank The Poet
Stobie Sounds


The story goes that in 1832, a young Irishman named Francis MacNamara stole a piece of cloth and so was sentenced to seven years transportation in Australia. It’s with Frank the Poet, as he became known, that the foundation for this record lies; a dozen or so of his works – the poems for which he found posthumous fame – set to music by some of this country’s finest roots players.

The likes of Mia Dyson, The Yearlings, Jeb Cardwell, Matt Walker and Sean McMahon bring their roots nous to the melancholy writings of Frank, helping paint a vivid, albeit sparse, picture of life in this country in a time when basic survival was uppermost in everyone’s mind.  It’s an album that brings to life a time gone by, and as such, is a small piece of history in its own right.

Samuel J. Fell

Monday, 24 September 2012

Record Review - Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson

Published in the October issue of The Big Issue.

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson
Wreck & Ruin
Liberation Music


This, the second cut from husband and wife duo Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, is an incredibly important release for country music in Australia.  Following on from debut Rattlin’ Bones (2008), it not only affirms the ease with which these two create together, but it further displays a diversity, a willingness to explore and expand within the genre that can only broaden the appeal of this oft-maligned music in this country.

The record dips and dives effortlessly between bluegrass and country/blues, from soaring ballads to stomping barn-burners, it incorporates gospel influence with that classic country sound that informed the likes of Gram Parsons in the early ‘70s, and it does all this without once losing focus or cohesion.

Where Wreck & Ruin truly shines though, is in the duo’s ability to harmonise.  For it’s the pairing of Chambers’ higher register with Nicholson’s deeper, darker timbre that makes this record so good, proving once and for all that country music, particularly in Australia, has the depth and the appeal to compete across the board.

Samuel J. Fell

Friday, 21 September 2012

Record Review - Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Published in the October issue of Rhythms.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Meat And Bone
Freeform Patterns

Finally, after eight long years, the blues is number one once more (baby), as the freaked out, fucked up sounds of Jon Spencer and the mighty Blues Explosion come right back atcha for another round, a wiggy mix of garage rock ‘n’ soul, bodily dragged through the blues wringer, no quarter asked, none given.

Over the course of 21 years and 12-ish records, JSBX have made it their off-kilter mission to re-inform the blues as they see it, the resulting fuzzed out glorious mess their trademark, and truth be told, their MO hasn’t changed with Meat And Bone – this could well be 1996 right here, circa I Got Worry, and there ain’t a single thing wrong with that.

The band’s last couple of records – 2004’s Damage and 2002’s Plastic Fang – have smoothed somewhat, whilst still retaining the madness so inherent, but this one takes it back to the complete reckless abandon they did so well through the ‘90s.  It’s instantly recognisable (from opener ‘Black Mold’) as who, and indeed, what, it is, and this is what makes it so good.  There’s no arty variation, there’s no trying to discover themselves amongst their music, it’s just music, ragged and raw, fucking music, courtesy of a band who do it better than anyone, ever.

In their own way, a pop line infuses a lot of the tracks, there are little catchy bits and pieces buried deep within the mud and slime, there’s out-of-control distortion as a matter of course, there’s harmonica blasting through like a steam train running express through the depths of blues hell – it’s utter frenetic madness and mayhem, set to as primal a beat as you can get, The Blues (baby).  This one is to be played loud, it’s to be played whilst you’re having sex, it’s to be played with a bottle of whiskey and a seven beer chaser.  It’s the Blues Explosion baby, yeah.

Samuel J. Fell