Thursday, 24 October 2013

Record Review - Cherrywood

Originally published on Mess+Noise, October 21 2013

Book Of Matches
Love & Theft

There is something uniquely beautiful about unkempt male vocal harmonies. The ragged joining together of masculine voices, perhaps fuelled by too much whisky, certainly informed by a love of the music at hand, an unlikely choir to inspire acoustic accompanied sing-alongs around fires on winter’s nights.

Melbourne quartet Cherrywood, treading the Victorian capital’s doom country path, well worn by the likes of Wagons, The Wildes, Graveyard Train and Twin Beasts, are the embodiment of such goings on. These two years past have seen them worm their way into this tightknit scene, their live shows thumping paeans to the country music of old (dirty, gritty, real) while raising check-shirted arms, fists clenched, in salute to the punk and the rock ‘n’ roll that comes from the same place.

After two years then, Cherrywood have committed to disc what you’d have seen on stages around Melbourne’s inner north. Book Of Matches is the debut cut, and where it does indeed stand up, is how eerily close it sounds to those late night stage-burning shows, something any band will tell you is harder to achieve than almost anything else.

Driving acoustic guitar defines a lot of where Book Of Matches is coming from, that laconic country strum which, at the drop of a hat, is able to kick up a gear, driving forward, pinning you to the back of your seat. Lashings of mandolin, the steady thump of the double bass, the shuffle of a snare drum accompany, playing an outrigger role for the most part, but all jumping off that disc as if these four unruly types are in your house – perhaps an added bonus of playing acoustic instruments.

The music is dark and surprisingly heavy though, for such an acoustic band. Their cover of traditional gospel number ‘In My Time Of Dying’ is a violent, churning, living beast of a track, vocals almost shouted, throaty, a constant beat which has no end, the mandolin high in the mix to create a country bluegrass behemoth.

By contrast, following track ‘Could Wash No Devil From My Bones’ is joyous and upbeat. No less foot-to-the-floor, but with a jaunty vocal and a melody which immediately brings a smile your lips, to the lips of even the most staunch country music aficionado. It’s this ability to switch between aural violence and pleasure that also defines a lot of where Book Of Matches is coming from: ‘Skeleton Key’ seeps melancholy, very sparse; ‘Midway Point’, after a false start, kicks into a Celtic-tinged mile-a-minute foot stomper; ‘Autumn Blues’ fuses the country with the blues, a riff which if electrified, would be Rock ‘n’ Roll 101; and album centrepiece ‘Pentridge’ stretches out, long and slow, lamenting, soul crushing, with haunting backing vocals from Erica Dunn, her higher register combining artfully with the gruff male leads.

Which brings us back to the vocal harmonising that fuses this record together. There is nothing sweet about it. It’s not something with which to sooth one’s savage breast, by any means. But it’s powerful and real, it’s rough and tumble, it’s vibrant and it vibrates and it’s beautiful to behold, Cherrywood having it down pat, the foundation to their music, their sound, their musical way of life. It’s what makes Book Of Matches so startlingly strong, I certainly hope there’s a lot more of it to come.

Samuel J. Fell

For Mess+Noise version, click here.

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