Thursday, February 27, 2014

Troy Cassar-Daley and Adam Harvey at the Sydney Opera House

One of the best shows I have ever been to - and I've been to many - was part of the very first tour undertaken by Adam Harvey and Troy Cassar-Daley, performing a whole bunch of songs they loved written by a whole bunch of people who weren't them. It was an opportunity for them as friends and colleagues to have a ball, and they really did - consequently the audience did too. The breadth of their musical knowledge was impressive, as was the fact that, stepping away from their own material, it became clear that they were very accomplished performers and interpreters of other people's work. We put a lot of store on singers who are also songwriters but it's also quite a trick to be a great interpreter of someone else's songs. To be able to do both - as Adam and Troy showed they could - is the measure of a truly great artist (at least, in my opinion).

Troy and Adam are bringing what is now The Great Country Song Book to the Sydney Opera House on 28 March 2014. I don't ordinarily plug single gigs but, seriously, these two are amongst the finest performers in the land, and this gig is as close to a guaranteed good time as you're going to get - apart from going to a McClymonts gig. But I'll save that for another post.

You can read my review of the Great Country Song Book album here

Book tickets for the show at

Friday, February 21, 2014

Album review: Brad Butcher

I meant to review Brad Butcher’s debut album weeks ago. Perhaps even months ago. But I found I couldn’t stop listening to it long enough to work out what I actually wanted to say about it. Now, I’ve forced myself away – reluctantly.

At very first, shallow listening, this album seemed to have musical echoes of Jack Johnson and Pete Murray – and I’m not a huge fan of either artist so I was close to abandoning ship. But then a few bars of Butcher's voice made me realise that he is his own man and his own songwriter, and this album is his alone. If anything, the clue to his real influence lies in his choice of a Bruce Springsteen song to cover (‘I’m on Fire’), its echo found in the bridge of ‘The Old Man’s Gone’, which is just one of several unforgettable songs on this album.

Butcher tells stories about life, death, ageing, families and towns. He tells those stories from the heart yet he isn’t mawkish or falsely sentimental. When he performs ‘The Old Man’s Gone’ live, he says he wrote it for his niece when he heard that her father – his brother – was getting divorced. That story can certainly be identified within the lyrics, but as with all great storytellers Butcher has found a way to write the story so that it resonates with other people. The opening track, ‘Pipe Song’, is so much more than its prosaic title suggests – it is about choosing life over death, and sometimes death over life, and how to live in between those points. ‘There You Are’ muses – but not too long – on the role fate plays in our relationships with those we hold most dear.

The overall tone of this album is reflective and slightly melancholy, but there is a lot of joy on it as well. And always, always, Butcher sounds as though he is singing to a listener, not to a microphone – he has found a way to connect without knowing at all who is going to be ‘out there’ listening to his songs. Moreover, Butcher’s diction is so crystalline that the rough edges you think you hear on his voice are just a characteristic of his singing style – they in no way obliterate the words he sings or their meaning. This is a performer who has taken care documenting his songs – the courtesy he shows to the listener is there in every note.

Great songwriting, like all great art, is alchemy – it is impossible to tease out the parts of it and identify exactly how those parts joined together to make the impressive whole. Sometimes the alchemy happens because of the voice that sings the songs. I have listened to the songs on this album over and over and cannot work out exactly why they’re so different and so appealing and why they find their mark every single time, no matter how often I've listened to them. All I can presume is that Butcher is a kind of genius, and he has found a way to marry his songs and his voice in just the right way, either arriving at it intuitively or through hard work or, more likely, both. The album is definitely worth your time, and Brad Butcher should definitely make another one soon.   

Brad Butcher is out now, through Vitamin Records

Friday, February 7, 2014

Album review: 1835 Madison by Faith Evans Ruch

No matter how well a song is written, if it's not delivered in a way - or in a voice - that connects with listeners, it's very hard for that song to find an audience. It's one of the reasons why we place so much importance on singers' voices; another reason is that we have instinctual responses to voices - often we either want to cuddle up next to the speaker and be bathed in that voice, or we don't. 

Faith Evans Ruch has a great voice. Rich, warm and deep, it is the sort of voice that will make you want to cuddle up, not run away. It is a voice that could do the oldest lullabye powerful justice; it is also a voice that, on her debut album 1835 Madison, delivers regret and longing but, refreshingly, no self-pity. On 'Don't Go', when she sings 'Don't go - don't leave me alone tonight' it's not the plaintive cry of the lovelorn but almost a command. How could any suitor ignore such a request when it's delivered like that?

Evans Ruch's voice could be classified as 'old-timey' only in that it's not a voice often found in contemporary music, where so often the edges are sanded instead of rounded. Her songs are 'old-timey' in that they respect the forms, traditions and pace of older country songs - and they suggest that Evans Ruch knows her voice well, and knows which sorts of songs will suit it. 

There is whimsy and knowing on 1835 Madison. The songs are sassy but also wistful - the missives of a strong woman who would rather live without love if it means that love is wrong, and who would rather get her thoughts and feelings out in a country song than wallow in them silently. Evans Ruch is clearly a woman of action, not complaint. It makes for an upbeat, charming album that wouldn't be out of place in 1954 but which also sounds just fine in 2014.