Friday, 29 January 2016

Record Review - Nick Charles

Published in the Shortlist section of The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday Jan 29.

Nick Charles
The River Flows
Black Market Music

Melbourne player Nick Charles is one of the more considered guitarists in Australia. Never flashy but always precise, his intricate playing has brought to Oz blues a sophistication and depth that’s seen him admired not just in this country, but around the world.

Deeply inspired by the blues of old, Charles is also adept at all things folk and even country, as his latest record shows. His eighth Australian solo record, 12th worldwide solo release and his 20th overall, The River Flows is the mark of a musician with nothing left to prove, but still displaying a wont to explore. The addition of Pete Fidler on dobro and electric lap steel adds some exciting flavour, as does Paul Jones’ violin and Louis Gill’s electric and double bass – Charles has been, for the most part, a solo artist, and so to see him explore with the added pull of these fine accompanists, only adds to the album’s subtle power.

The album centrepiece, the seven-minute ‘Penelope’, is an incredibly fluid piece of work, an instrumental that both warms the heart and also manages to inject a dose of melancholy to proceedings, a near perfect melding of country with the blues, showing that Charles is merely getting better with age.

Samuel J. Fell

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Feature - Gillian Welch

Published in issue #503 of The Big Issue.

“I’m in Nashville where it’s a beautiful late fall, early winter’s day,” says Gillian Welch, the scratchy phone line doing little to dull a voice which has been a constant in my life for over a decade. Welch sounds relaxed, comfortable, happy in her little piece of the world, a town with a musical history matched by few others.

“Nashville has played a huge part,” she enthuses on the city she’s called home for over twenty years. “Before I moved [here], I had written three songs, ever, so my whole ‘finding my voice’ as a writer happened here, and happened because I feel connected here to the music that I love, the music that inspires me.

“I can feel, see and sometimes even touch the musical tradition that I’m a part of, it’s all around.” Nashville burns with this musical tradition – from the scungy bars of East Nashville, to the humble Bluebird CafĂ©, the ostentatious Grand Ole Opry, the boot-scootin’ beer halls on Broadway across the Cumberland River from downtown – everyone lives for the music, the tradition growing stronger with each passing year.

Gillian Welch came to notice in 1996 with the release of her debut record, Revival. Produced by T-Bone Burnett (Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, et al), it featured Welch and musical partner David Rawlings in what has become their trademark sparse and simple style, just vocal harmonies overlaying acoustic guitar, touches of banjo. It was nominated for a Grammy the following year, and set in motion a career that today sees Welch as the darling of the Americana scene.

She’s not one to move quickly. There’s no real need. While she was reasonably prolific early on (Revival was followed by Hell Among The Yearlings in 1998, then the modern classic Time (The Revelator) in 2001 and Soul Journey in 2003), Welch slowed down, waiting until 2011 before her next cut, The Harrow & The Harvest. As each of her recordings have been, it was worth the wait, another collection of heavy, mostly dark and moody songs in the true red-dirt country tradition.

As well, she’s contributed to both Dave Rawlings Machine records, 2009’s A Friend Of A Friend, and most recently, Nashville Obsolete, released late last year, again adding her haunting and lithe voice to Rawlings’ brilliantly subtle guitar work.

The last time Welch was in Australia was back in 2004, touring Soul Journey. When she’s here in late January then, with Rawlings in tow – the tour will comprise Welch/Rawlings shows, as well as Dave Rawlings Machine shows – it will have been eleven long years since Australian audiences will have had the pleasure of seeing Welch in the flesh, bringing these songs to life.

“We’ve been talking about doing this for years… doing the duet show in one direction, turn around, fly the band in, play it back the other direction,” she says with a smile. “It’s a wacky brain-child we’ve been wanting to do… ever since we were down there.”

“[But] I really thought we’d have got down there with The Harrow & The Harvest, we talked about it,” she then muses, on why so long since they’ve been to Australia. “Time kind of gets away from you, and other stuff [pops up], and you just keep rollin’ along, you know? I have no good excuse, except we just stay busy, and it’s a big ol’ world, it takes a while to get around.”

Welch has certainly been around. Her songs have been covered by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Solomon Burke and Willie Nelson; her influence stretches around the globe (one listen to any of the myriad country-tinged singer-songwriters coming out of Melbourne at the moment is testament to this); Time (The Revelator) is cited as one of the great country records, by fans and media alike – it’s an album which has been played repeatedly in my house for years, I know it intimately, as do countless others.

Knowing all this then, perhaps it’s not so surprising, as it was at first thought, that when she’s here in January, it’ll be almost exactly twenty years since the release of Revival. “Wow, you’re right, I’d not thought of that,” she says, with an almost self-conscious laugh.

“We got a lifetime achievement award for songwriting this year (from the Americana Music Association), and it was funny and took us by surprise, and we were very moved,” she recalls, adding with another laugh, “but also we were kinda laughing at ourselves, because you know, I feel too young to be getting a lifetime achievement award!”

“But in the course of that, someone said to me, ‘Well, it’s been almost twenty years since your first record, so they’re allowed to give you a lifetime achievement award’,” she says, laughing again like she can’t quite believe it’s been two decades since that debut cut, laboured over so intently, finally released into the world, the beginning of something so lasting and meaningful for so many.

“We’re still trying to write better songs,” Welch says simply, towards the end of our interview. Her contribution to that great Nashville tradition is far from over, a lifetime of songwriting achievement still not done.

Samuel J. Fell

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Record Reviews - Brendan Welch & Joshua Seymour

Published in the January/February 2016 issue of Rhythms.

Brendan Welch
The Gleaner
Heart Of The Rat Records

When Melbourne singer-songwriter Brendan Welch’s debut LP, The Gleaner, first appeared in 2009, it heralded the arrival of another strong songwriter and arranger. It followed two EPs – The Unbeat and That Ghost, the former of which scored a bit of Triple J play – but it was the full-length offering that really showcased Welch’s talent.

Earlier this year, The Gleaner scored a re-release through the Ballarat-based Heart Of The Rat Records, on vinyl no less, a little gem rediscovered and pushed back into the zeitgeist, destined to rekindle the acclaim it garnered six years ago.

The record certainly has a country bent to it, and within that framework is where Welch mainly works, covering a fair bit of ground. The lilting ‘Think I’d Always Thought (I’d Fall In Love With You)’ begins proceedings, his voice strong, which sets the scene for the rest of the album.

Tracks like ‘With A Steady Hand’ up the tempo, more of an outlaw country sort of thing, the momentum slowing with ‘Run While You Still Can’, its tinkling ivories recalling both some old saloon somewhere, as well as strains of the blues, before Welch’s voice comes in and swings it gently back toward Nashville.

‘If Only I Could Know You Then’ showcases some tasty guitar, lazy and hard-driving, and for me, it’s these moments that stand tall; that almost stoner-rock style of country music. Welch’s voice on this particular track brings to mind a clearer-voiced Neil Young.

Overall, this is a record which should have received even more attention than it did upon initial release. Going back to it, particularly on vinyl, has been almost a revelation – this is a great album, it stands tall as an example of not only what Welch is capable of, but of the world-class Americana that’s been coming out of Melbourne for years now. To my mind then, Welch should be thinking very much about a follow-up. More of this sort of thing certainly would not go astray. Samuel J. Fell


Joshua Seymour
Rope Tied Hope
Lucky Buck Records

Joshua Seymour is, when not in solo mode, the guitar and mandolin player for Melbourne Americana outlaws Cherrywood. Here, he steps out on his own for the first time, a collection of earthy, real songs penned over his time tripping about the place, recorded in Argyle, Texas – the results are solid.

Ranging from introspective piano-led ballads (‘Carry It Home’), to carefree finger-snappers (‘Nothing To Me Now’, ‘Don’t Wait Up’), to red-dirt country numbers (‘Two Or Few’), it is at its heart an Americana album, but there’s a distinct Australian bent to it. It shimmers slowly like heat haze, the stories are of experiences both true and fictional, told in a comfortable and honest way, recalling images of home, Australia, the other red-dirt place.

Seymour is a songwriter who’s growing fast. This is a good start, I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next. Samuel J. Fell

Monday, 18 January 2016

Profile - Shakey Graves

Published in the February 2016 issue of Rolling Stone (Jan, 2016)

Shakey Graves

Shakey Graves, otherwise known as Alejandro Rose-Garcia, first came to the attention of Australian audiences touring over here early last year with fellow American songsters Shovels & Rope.

His blending of Americana, blues and rock ‘n’ roll has also hit chords elsewhere around the globe, so much so, Rose-Garcia, in September last year, took out the Best Emerging Artist gong at the annual Americana Awards in Nashville – no mean feat for one whose debut album, Roll The Bones, was only released in 2011.

Despite all this though, he’s adamant he’s not an ‘Americana’ artist, at least not as other people may see it. “I would never refer to my music as Americana, it feels like Americana is everything that’s not rap,” he says with a laugh. “I wasn’t reared on country music per se, not Top 40 country… but there was always that element of Stevie Ray Vaughn 12-bar blues, plenty of Texas swing, and then a lot of John Prine-y, storytelling songwriter [stuff].”

Hailing from Austin, Texas, where all these influences were born and bled into his music, Rose-Garcia will head to Australia for a second time in a couple of months, playing the Byron Bay Bluesfest, as well as a handful of side-shows. This time, he’ll bring with him his trio, as recorded on latest cut, 2014’s And The War Came, an album which really showcases his eclectic use of various American musics.

“I’m just trying to play what I want to hear. It’s not as simple as that, but I’m not trying to overthink it,” he muses. “So those dynamics (loud, soft) are something I saw potential for in myself a long time ago, and it’s been an honest goal of mine to try and fuse it together, because that’s what I want out of a show.”

Samuel J. Fell