Friday, 20 May 2016

Record Review - Claire Anne Taylor

Published in the Shortlist section of The Sydney Morning Herald, May 20.

Claire Anne Taylor

One could make many a comparison when it comes to Claire Anne Taylor’s voice – Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, early Mia Dyson, all spring to mind and all are evident in Taylor’s vocal delivery, but essentially, it’s hers and hers alone. Make no mistake, it’s this voice which forms the foundation from which Taylor’s debut grows. Husky, smokey, velvet and barbed, it’s an instrument in itself and it commands your attention throughout the entirety of the record.

Recorded at Byron Bay’s now defunct Studio 301, and incorporating a slew of the area’s finest musicians, Elemental is definitely a strong debut. While Taylor will grow into the songwriting side of things, musically these ten tracks pulse and throb with an urgency – whether she’s singing of her family (As Strong As An Axe; My Mother, My Mountain), lost love (I Blame The Moon), or whiskey-soaked sadness (Devil), because of how she delivers these lyrics, you can’t help but get caught up in the whirlwind the songs become as a result.

Trading in rootsy folk for the most part, Elemental is strong and assured, the high point coming with the title track which builds slowly, climaxing into an almost desperate state.

Samuel J. Fell

Friday, 13 May 2016

Record Review - Sean McMahon

Published in the Shortlist section of The Sydney Morning Herald, May 13.

Sean McMahon & The Moonmen
Independent / MGM
Sean McMahon is no newbie. His work with Melbourne country rockers Downhills Home, chanteuse Jemma Rowlands, and on his own with Western Union, see him regarded as one of this country’s finest country-tinged guitarists and songwriters, albeit one who’s never really taken centre stage. With new outfit The Moonmen however, Sean McMahon has stepped forward, and has hit his straps.

A gorgeously warm release, Shiner slowly blooms from the lilting vocalled sweetness of opener House Of Mirrors and doesn’t stop growing, the feel and shimmer continuing long after the closing notes of the slow-groove title track have faded. Bringing in former Downhills Michael Hubbard (bass) and Josh Duiker (drums), along with pedal steel maestro Ben Franz (plus Matt Walker and Rowlands on occasional backing vocals), McMahon has crafted an album that stacks up on all fronts – his guitar, at the forefront for the most past, is the album’s signature; his voice is strong but is used as a compliment; his songwriting is on point, tight and poignant.

Based in the country idiom but completely unafraid to meander down myriad other paths – dalliances with rock, folk and pop – Shiner has properly unearthed a contender, Sean McMahon shown as a master of his craft.

Samuel J. Fell