Friday, 4 July 2014

Record Review - Tracy McNeil

Published in the July issue of Rhythms magazine.

Tracy McNeil
Nobody Ever Leaves
Vitamin Records


Canadian-born Melbournian Tracy McNeil has been a Rhythms favourite for some time. Her sets at the Mullum Music Festival in 2012 were highlights for me, and since then, I’ve been awaiting her second ‘solo’ record with much anticipation. Her debut, Fire From Burning (2011) was great, as were her contributions to the one and only Fireside Bellows record with Jordie Lane (2008), but seeing the evolution she exhibited in Mullum had me thinking there was something special afoot for record number two.

Nobody Ever Leaves is a gem. The intervening time has seen McNeil grow as both a musician and songwriter, it’s seen her keen to branch out musically, it’s seen her become what I suspected all along – McNeil is a huge talent, an artist destined to make some long-overdue waves on the Australian Americana scene – this record will make sure of that.

“I feel like I’m writing more like I was when I was 21,” says the now 40-year-old McNeil, “when I wasn’t trying to write for a genre. I’m just writing. I kinda feel like I’ve come full circle a bit, to when I first started writing songs. It’s kinda weird, and ironically, I’m [also] coming back to the music I listened to as a kid, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, that west coast sound, and I’m into Dawes right now, who are doing that sound.”

McNeil says she wrote the majority of the songs on the record while driving in her car, something that seemed to free her up as a songwriter. “Yeah, it was a lot freer because I was writing without an instrument in my hand, just singing, and then I’d go and work it out, which chords etc. But they’re the same chords, just in different configurations, but the melodies are a lot poppier because of that freedom, I guess.”

The record is very much rooted in the Americana for which McNeil has become known, but it carries with it the aforementioned pop edge. A stellar example is opener, ‘Wildcats’. It’s a gorgeous, warm, flowing song – it’s country music, but melodically it’s more lighthearted and bouncy, playfully teasing the darker edges it still possesses, an unlikely marriage perhaps, but one which works extraordinarily well. A contender for Song of the  Year.

Another highlight of Nobody Ever Leaves is McNeil’s band, The Goodlife. Spearheaded by guitarists Luke Sinclair (Raised By Eagles, and also McNeil’s husband) and the indisputably solid Matty Green (along with slick rhythm section Rod Boothroyd on bass and Bree Hartley drumming), it’s a band which intertwines itself around McNeil’s songs and lifts them up to where they need to be – even higher, if such a thing were possible.

“Well, all of a sudden, I’ve got five people who can really sing, and that was a big thing, trying to get all those harmonies,” McNeil says of the group, one which has undergone a few lineup changes over the past couple of years. “And they all come up with their own parts. We’ll talk about where we want the song to lift… but I don’t really, with the band, direct what they’re gonna play very often. It’s like, ‘You do what you do, because you’re gonna make it sound awesome’. I’m really lucky because they’re all such talented dudes, and they’ve got such great taste.”

Great taste indeed – they’re playing on Tracy McNeil’s album, a record which showcases a slew of serious talent. “I just wanted to make a great record, we all did,” she says. “I wanted to fully realise every song, and I wanted to take risks, in terms of production. I wanted to make an album that was fun, I wanted to have some songs that were fun and the way to do that is not limiting yourself to what to put on it, or how you’re going to go about it. So I think I just wanted to be free to create whatever it was we were gonna make. I wanted it to be great.”

Nobody Ever Leaves is great. It’s an immense record which showcases the talent of a rising roots music star. Tracy McNeil has arrived.

Samuel J. Fell

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