Sunday, 13 November 2016

Record Review - Archie Roach

Published in the December issue of Rolling Stone (November 2016)

Archie Roach
Let Love Rule
Liberation Music

Archie Roach’s tenth record is a gem. At its core is the theme of love, but overall it’s an eleven song-long message of hope, “what I wish for” as Roach himself says. Covering a range of styles, Let Love Rule centres around his deep and rough-edged voice, the mainstay through these songs which paint vivid pictures of a theme which in no way seems clich├ęd or overused, not in Roach’s hands anyway.

The addition of the Dhungala Children’s Choir and the Short Black Opera Choir on the title track and No More Bleeding is a masterstroke; Jen Anderson’s violin throughout plays a pivotal role; the songwriting is poignant and as strong as ever, on an album which fair oozes soul and honesty.

Samuel J. Fell

Key Tracks: Let Love Rule, Mighty Clarence River, No More Bleeding
Check Archie Roach's Website Here

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Comment - Trumped

The rain has stopped. It’s cooler now, the aroma of wet earth rising and mingling with the cigarette stench and the smell of fish off the barbeque, long since eaten, digested; we’re on to bourbon now, beer chasers, rolling new smokes and lighting them with the stubbs of the old.

A clutch of moths hatched somewhere in the garden earlier today and so the lights out the back are being bombarded. Tiny flying insects chasing their sun. Bumping and buzzing with a ferocious intent, getting stuck in your eyelashes, your ears.

Aside from their buzz though, the croak of the odd frog, the cicadas, it’s quiet. Claire’s gone to bed and I’ve shut down the endless Twitter staccato; the rolling analysis from the New York Times; the ABC; Fox News; all the rest. Shut down the apps on my phone, closed all the windows on my laptop.

A couple of hours ago, Donald J. Trump was named the forty-fifth president of the United States, a notion which, only a few hours before that, was regarded as a long shot, a laugh, a joke, and a bad one at that.

Earlier, we’d sat and followed the results as the storm front came over, lessening the humidity, the grey sky lowering as its moist loins girded and eventually birthed upon the dry and crackling north coast a torrent. We watched as Electoral College votes stacked up, and even though this was happening half a world away, we kept watching, swapping stories we’d heard via various news sources throughout the day.

I was on deadline, not an urgent one, but closing in, three days with the majority of reportage behind me, three days in which to ruminate and write. I let it lie though, gave away half a day, pulled down the rabbit hole by the events unfolding with alarming rapidity across the Pacific.

I, like everyone else, have spent the better part of a year smirking at memes, nodding with faux-educated agreement at analysis, talking with friends and work mates about how this imposter dares set foot upon the hallowed turf that is a presidential race, and yet here we are now. An angry white male, about to take up a post in The Oval Office, in The White House.

Indeed, it’s never been whiter.

At some stage, not long before the heavens opened, we talked with my sister on Skype and the three of us asked each other over and over how this could be happening. My phone, open to some graphic or other, sat on the table next to my laptop and mid-conversation, I’d lean to the right to check results. My sister, two thousand kilometres to the south, would periodically do the same.

Claire’s sister rang at some point. They talked briefly out the back. Incredulity was the tone that floated back in through the open screen door.

As we shut it down, maybe an hour ago, the analysis was starting to filter through. What next? What does this mean? Where to from here? I don’t know and don’t pretend to. All I know is this has ceased to be a sick joke and is now a sicker reality. It’s the uncertainty that’s the killer, the feeling that anything at all could happen, and that most (if not all) of it won’t be of the notion that respect, inclusion and diversity is the key to a new world order.

The uncertainty, that’s the killer.

The rain has started again. The moths and frogs and cicadas have gone. There’s another storm brewing.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Record Review - Claude Hay

Published in the Shortlist section of The Sydney Morning Herald, November 4.

Claude Hay
Roller Coaster

Claude Hay’s latest release is a considered affair. It’s considered in that the Blue Mountains native has put aside the rambunctious and raucous delivery of past releases and opted instead for a more subtle approach, putting more focus on the arrangements and layers these songs contain, as opposed to foot-percussion-fuelled guitar jams.

There was nothing wrong with those, Hay was the master, but this is the man thinking outside the box. Bringing in Ryan Van Gennip on bass (Chase The Sun) and Brian Cachia on percussion, along with a smattering of cello and backing vocals, the songs pulsate with a maturity, the mark of an artist who’s spent time thrashing, and is now looking for something a bit more artistically substantial perhaps.

Still based very much in the blues, Hay delves into mellow stoner rock territory (the title track, Love No More); slow and melancholy (Never Say Goodbye), along with a healthy dose of groove, all of which marry well. While his lyrics still leave a fair bit to be desired, Claude Hay has upped the bar with Roller Coaster, further cementing his reputation as one of Australia’s more powerful roots music performers.

Samuel J. Fell

SMH Version Here

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Record Review - Leanne Tennant

Published in the November / December issue of Rhythms magazine.

Leanne Tennant
Red Wine, Late Nights

Singer-songwriter Leanne Tennant’s second record is a raw affair, stripped back and simple, a quiet power emanating from this clutch of songs, both personal and broad, all relatable.

Tennant’s voice takes centre-stage for the most part, whether soaring or almost whispering, the addition on ‘The Pages Are Still White’ (a song about writer’s block) of Luke Daniel Peacock, who’s possessed of a deep, ragged voice, a fine counterpoint. ‘Lay Me Down’ is perhaps the gentlest track on the record, fingerpicked guitar and Tennant’s voice, there’s a certain vulnerability to the song which softens the edges and the creeping onset of dark that defines a lot of the rest of Red Wine, Late Nights. The album closes out with ‘No More My Lawd’ on which Tennant really shines vocally, a powerful way to wrap up what is a fine record.

Samuel J. Fell

See LT's website here

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Column - 2016 Album Wrap-Up

Published in the November / December issue of Rhythms magazine.

Goin’ Down Slow
Nov/Dec 2016

Once again, we find ourselves at the tail-end of another year. The older one gets, it seems, the faster time seems to fly – indeed, another 12 months done and dusted, another year older. A year wiser? The jury’s still out on that one.

One thing of which I am certain however, is that this year has been a good one for music. A slew of fantastic records have passed over my desk these 12 months just gone, and so I’ve been inundated with the finest sounds from all around, perhaps one reason the year has run by so quickly.

Given this year I actually kept a list (tacked to the pinboard above my desk), tracking releases I thought were top-notch, here then are my favourites from 2016, in no particular order.

Black Stone Cherry’s Kentucky caught my ear first up, hard and heavy southern rock. My first contact with this band, and I’m reliably informed their earlier material is even better – I’ll get on to that. Freakwater, whose twisted take on Americana hit me via Scheherazade, were a revelation. These guys have been about since the late ‘80s, and time has not dulled their power.

Americana was quite a theme for me this year, with records from the Weeping Willows (Before Darkness Comes A-Callin’); Halfway (The Golden Halfway Record); and Tracy McNeil & The GoodLife (Thieves) getting solid airplay in my office. The Willows is straight up Americana, two part harmonies, stripped and simple, a great album. Halfway’s effort, their fifth, leant more towards trad country, a definite smart rock injection. Tracy McNeil went from strength to strength, her third record imbued with a distinct West Coast vibe, Laurel Canyon and that sort of thing.

Fanny Lumsden (Small Town Big Shot, which has just been nominated for an ARIA); Amarillo (Eyes Still Fixed); and Sean McMahon (Shiner) all produced excellent albums too, all with hints of Americana, but all adding something else to this burgeoning sub-genre. McMahon’s is a contender for guitar album of the year, while exemplary songwriting defines Amarillo’s release, with Lumsden combining both a country and pop nous to really nail her debut.

Sweet Jean’s second effort, Monday To Friday, was a pearler, containing perhaps the song of the year in ‘Main Street’, Alice Keath’s vocals undeniable. In researching for my story on the 25th anniversary of Fat Possum Records, I came across Seratones and their debut, Get Gone. A real mish-mash of rootsy sounds, set to a throbbing beat, solid.

I was also sent the debut cut, S.I.X, by Ballarat artist Matt Malone. This one came from left field and left me stunned – A “unique fusion of the traditional and avant-garde” is how it was described, which was on the money. ‘Dissonant, cracked, haunted’ is how I then described it in the subsequent review, a fantastic record that was far from perfect, which is exactly what made it virtually so.

The last couple of records (or perhaps they should be described as rekkids), are in a similar vein in that they both stem from virtually the same place – some dusty honky tonk somewhere in Texas. One literally does – Dale Watson’s Live At The Big T Roadhouse is a recording of him and his Lonestars playing Big T’s in St. Hedwig, Texas. Not only do they chug through a huge set, but Watson also calls the Chicken Shit Bingo, as well as making up jingles for Lone Star beer – it’s pure honky tonk gold.

The other is the new cut from Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock, Slingin’ Rhythm. This is a lesson in western swing, taught by the master himself. It bucks and writhes, swings and swoons, his band are killer and he’s the real deal.

So, particularly with these last two albums, stock up on cold brew (none of that craft business…), turn ‘em up and finish the year on a high – that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

Samuel J. Fell

Samuel J. Fell’s debut book, Stars & Hype – First Time Notes On The American Deep South is now available via