Saturday, September 22, 2012

Album review: Wiley Ways by Hat Fitz and Cara

'Eliza Blue' is the second track on the new album by Hat Fitz and Cara, but it sets the tone for the whole work: the call and response of Cara's rich voice and Hat Fitz's swampy, soulful cry weaved around a story and sounding like it's blasting straight out of a place caught between old time and new.

Wiley Ways grabs the listener by the ears, throat and heart and doesn't let go. It is the howl of the ancestors - musical and otherwise - and also the intriguing play (and sometimes push-and-pull) of two voices that complement each other beautifully, and two songwriters who understand each other very well but still find each other mysterious.

Hat Fitz and Cara go to the bedrock of story and song and dig up a few layers on the way down; they don't so much rebuild as reconstruct them on their way back up to the surface of the earth. Sometimes it sounds like we're pulling back the curtain on the late nineteenth century, seeing performers sitting around a campfire with whatever instruments they have to hand, deploying songs for their original purpose: to tell stories. One hesitates to say that there's 'the call of the wild' on this album, as that implies that it's not an accomplished piece of work - which it is - but it feels untamed and passionate, and in being so is a reminder that much of modern music is controlled, whether by the production process or because someone thinks the audience prefers that. Perhaps they do - a lot of us like our culture safe and unchanging (how else can we explain so many reality television shows that seek to 'find' singers, in a fairly unvaried format?). This is not a safe album. This is the blues, and it's country, and it feels like authentic Australian music - what, indeed, would have been played by long-ago folks when there was no one around to record what they were doing.

There is not much I can compare this album to, for the purposes of reviewing it. Hat Fitz and Cara are a husband-and-wife pair, like Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson; like Kasey and Shane they have an extensive knowledge of and curiosity about music. But that's as far as the comparisons go, because they produce completely different songs. There are muddy, swampy, rootsy outfits around but usually they don't have women in them - and this album is unthinkable without Cara on it. So I'm left with the conclusion that Hat Fitz and Cara are unique - and that's just one of the reasons to seek out this album. One of the others is that it will take the top of your head off, in the best possible way.

Wiley Ways by Hat Fitz and Cara is released on 1 October.

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