Monday, 30 September 2013

Record Review - Adalita

Published in The Big Issue, September 23.


Having already proven herself away from the band that made her name, it seems, with her second solo release, that the only person Adalita had anything to prove to this time, was herself.

For it appears this record was born of a period of serious self-reflection, personal growth and that age-old songwriter’s muse, moving on. The emotion which pours from these songs is so real it almost literally throbs with each note, with each down-strum, with each drum beat. Indeed, this is as personal a record as you’re likely to hear all year, and it’s this honesty which makes All Day Venus more than just a mere rock ‘n’ roll record.

Working with regular Magic Dirt producer Lindsay Gravina, Adalita has kept this one musically simple, which gives her lyrics all the more room to shine. Against a fuzzy electric backdrop (it is still a rock record at heart), she espouses on lost love and friendship with a uniqueness and gravitas that show, hopefully to her too, that she’s one of the best around.

Samuel J. Fell

Friday, 27 September 2013

Record Review - Pete Cornelius

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday September 27.

Pete Cornelius
Independent / Only  Blues Music

Tasmanian Pete Cornelius is only in his late 20s, but this is a man who knows and plays the blues like someone three, four times his age. Releasing his first record at age 13, Cornelius has quietly gone about forging a reputation as not only a stellar guitar slinger, but also as one not content to merely lay down 12 bars, really getting into the songwriting and arranging aspect of this oldest of genres.

Groundswell sees Cornelius at the top of his game in that respect. Bringing in various horns to bulk out the sound, along with lashings of Hammond organ and piano, it’s an album in which the man explores more of a swing/blues aspect (opener, ‘Drinking The Blues’), a gospel bent (‘Cold Water’), a driving, jagged blues shuffle (‘Repo Man’), a freeform N’awlins groove (‘Talkin’ Bout New Orleans’).

It’s a mixed bag to be sure, and while it doesn’t pack as much of a punch as his rawer straight blues recordings, it does sit together well, as mature an old recording from a young man as you’ll ever find.

Samuel J. Fell

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Record Review - Chris Russell

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 20 September.

Chris Russell’s Chicken Walk
Love & Theft

While the purists may dismiss boogie blues as the lazy man’s domain, truthfully it’s all about the groove, and this is a lot harder to accomplish than many give credit for. Melbournian Chris Russell is the master in this country, as adept at turning a single key run into a churning, foot-stomping free-for-all, as he is at turning a crowd of hip young things into diehard blues fans.

Second cut, Shakedown is a master class at this. Only eight tracks long, it’s high gear from the get-go, Dean Muller’s hypnotic drumming laying a bedrock from which Russell can build, songs becoming living, breathing things, unstoppable, road trains booming down the highway, no quarter asked, none given.

Russell’s voice is the perfect foil too, whisky-soaked and smoke stained, hurling blues platitudes out but making them sound real, urgent, for The Now. He throws in traditional tune ‘Catfish Blues’ (roughs it up), and finishes with the epic ‘Bad Motherfucker’, which is exactly what he is.

Samuel J. Fell

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Feature - A Tale Of Two Blues Festivals

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald (Friday 20).

As the Great Southern Blues Festival gears up for its return after a two year hiatus, rival event, the Sydney Blues & Roots Festival, could be under threat.

Australia is no stranger to the blues festival. The rawness of the music itself, the gathering together outdoors, the ready availability of booze, all combine to create something as natural to us as going to the beach, or kicking the footy.

As a result, we’re certainly not short of our fair share, particularly in the central NSW region, from just north of Sydney down to Narooma, some 350km south.

Running at various times of year you’ll find the Sydney Blues & Roots Festival in Windsor, the Great Southern Blues Festival in Narooma (this year back after a two year hiatus), the Australian Blues Festival in Goulburn, the Thredbo Blues Festival up on the mountain, and the Blue Mountains Music Festival in Katoomba.

It’s the Narooma and Sydney events however, which will be interesting to watch this year. Narooma began as a single-day event in 1996, gaining momentum until an ill-fated move up the road to Batemans Bay in 2009 stalled proceedings, causing the event to shut down two years later.

Sydney, which began in 2009, was able to take advantage of the gap in the market, and as co-director Gary Mannix says, they grew “from 1200 punters in 2009, to approximately 4500 over the weekend [in 2012].”

This year however, Narooma is back. It’s an event held in very high regard around the country, highlighted by the fact that, at time of writing, 80% of tickets have been sold. It’s here to take back its place in the market, and so the question is, can the fledgling Sydney event survive?

“As a promoter, you do worry that it’ll affect your bottom line,” admits Mannix on the GSBF’s return. “But I’m thrilled Narooma is back, I’ve been going for 14 years, and if it wasn’t so close to mine, I’d go this year to support it. As a promoter, it just makes you work a bit harder to put on a festival that rivals, or betters, Narooma.”

Mannix goes on to say that their ticket sales, as of the end of August, are in line with last year’s event, their biggest to date. This seems to suggest that there is indeed room for both these events, something echoed by John Durr, head of premier Australian blues label Black Market Music, whose artists regularly grace stages at both events.

“I think there [will be room for both], but you’ve got to find your own mojo,” he says. “If you love guitar and volume, Narooma is your gig. If you want something softer, a little more subtle, Thredbo is your gig. That’s why there’s room for everyone, but you’ve got to have the smarts.”

This could well be where the Sydney event could lose its footing – has it established enough mojo, enough of a niche in only five years, to survive the reemergence of one of the country’s oldest blues festivals? Particularly one aiming at the same demographic, hosting a number of the same artists, and running only three weeks prior?

“Our niche is as a destination event,” Mannix reasons, citing the carnival atmosphere in the Mall in 200-year-old Windsor. When lined up alongside the picturesque surrounds of Narooma, Katoomba and Thredbo though, does it really compare?

“I don’t think Sydney is a true destination event,” says GSBF director Neil Mumme, “but I take my hat off to them. Anybody who does a festival has got my support, because I know what goes into it.”

Mark Lizotte, better known as Diesel, will be playing the Sydney event this year, both in solo guise, and with harmonica legend Chris Wilson. As far as he’s concerned, Sydney as a city, needs the Sydney Blues Festival. “If we can’t have a blues festival that’s Sydney-based, it’s pretty sad really,” he says. “And I don’t think there are too many [festivals]…  there are just a lot of people who want to go and see some blues music.”

“Well, I think [Narooma is] more about the southern part of the state,” Lizotte then muses on whether Narooma coming back will affect the SBF, citing distance as something that’ll keep them separate. “And Sydney draws people from [the city] I would imagine… although I’ve not seen the stats, so it’s hard to comment. [But] there’s a community there… it’s got a heart and soul, and it’s easy to say there’s too much already, but people just want to see some blues, and it should be appreciated for that reason alone, I think.”

It remains to be seen then, whether both events can continue to thrive. As Mumme points out, “Come November, we’ll see how it all pans out.” Indeed. And in the meantime, the winners are the punters, and of course the musicians. For you can never have too many places to play and listen to the blues.

By Samuel J. Fell

Event Info:

Great Southern Blues Festival
October 4-6, Narooma
Artists: The Holmes Brothers (US), Russell Morris, Backsliders, Watermelon Slim (US), Popa Chubby (US), Fiona Boyes + more

Sydney Blues & Roots Festival
October 24-27, Windsor
Artists: Diesel & Chris Wilson, Russell Morris, Charlie Parr (US), Charlie A’Court (Can), Ash Grunwald + more

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Live Review - BigSound 2013, Day Two

Published on

BigSound 2013 – Day Two, Thursday September 12

The Middle Names
Alhambra Lounge
All the way from Tasmania they come, five of them, away from the cold into the heat, Alhambra Lounge a sweat box early in the evening which suits The Middle Names just fine. They play hard-edged pop ‘n’ roll, and they play it well, pogoing when the need arises, hard riffs too, because sometimes you need that, dedicated to their craft, you can tell they mean it. Ali Probin, on the end, seems to spend more time tuning her guitar than she does playing it, which detracts from the overall unit-ness of the situation, but you can’t win ‘em all. Decent and tight, good at what’s happening, but not blowing minds – the road’s a long one.

Twin Beasts
The Zoo
Psychedelic spaghetti western. Flying sweat and moustaches so bad they’re good, checkered shirts and cowboy boots, but with a healthy dose of Rove Live to tone it down and make it real, appeal to the people, but fuck the people, those people don’t know what’s going on. If they did, then Twin Beasts (formerly the Toot Toot Toots), would be bigger than fucking Jesus in this country, or whomever you care to worship, and so it should be – this is music with stories, tales set to tune as rambunctious as your Grandma after a few sherries, you know it, Twin Beasts know it, and so you should get the hell on board. This is real.

Mr. Cassidy
633 Ann
I’ve been approached by this folky, bluegrassy duo (as they were at the time) before, filed the disc away, dug on the ethos they displayed, but was underwhelmed by what they wrought from same. Tonight, with an upright bass player / acoustic guitarist, and a drummer, this banjo / fiddle combo didn’t quite hit the mark. They’re aiming for the realm in which Gillian Welch inhabits (to their credit, they’re not just ripping it off), but they don’t quite get there. Their vocal harmonies are sugar-sweet, but there’s an experience, a knowledge, a wisdom that Mr. Cassidy don’t yet have. I hope they find it.

Lime Cordiale
Coniston Lane
I’m in the process of reviewing Sydney-siders’ Lime Cordiale’s debut EP for another publication, and so am quite familiar with the tunes, and yet I expect the worst. It’s late on the final night of BigSound, I’ve been drinking. Haven’t we all…? And yet I climb the stairs, grab a drink and am immediately, and somewhat surprisingly, taken by these tunes. It’s pop-laced, those catchy hooks, melodies etc, but there’s a hardness in there that you wouldn’t normally associate with such goings on. I find myself really getting into what they’re pedaling, I find myself tapping my worn out feet, I find myself becoming engrossed… I find myself being surprised that I like this so much. One of the finds of the week I’d say, as nice a surprise as one can get at the dreg-end of a happening like this. Keep your eyes peeled, this is good stuff.

Samuel J. Fell