Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Video: Sean McMahon and the MoonMen

In between listening to albums, occasionally I'll pause for a single song ... currently this track by Sean McMahon and the MoonMen is capturing my attention.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Album review: Two Lucky Stars by Mike Elrington

Melbourne resident Mike Elrington has made a name as a blues/roots player to watch and his eighth album, Two Lucky Stars, contains the proof. This is a cracker of an album – rambunctious and earthy and entertaining. All songs re performed acoustically, which makes me wonder what he's like with amplified, because there is a lot of power in these tracks.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I'll often remark on voices, and that's mainly because humans respond to the tone of a singing voice well before they realise what the lyrics of a song are (that's the reason why ABBA can drive people crazy, in good and bad ways). If the voice doesn't captivate, the lyrics have to work extra hard. In Elrington's case, his voice does its job and more: he has great timbre with a lovely deep, commanding sound that can slide and howl around the nuances in his songs. That's not his only instrument, though: his guitar achieves as much as his voice, as befits a performer who has made a reputation in the blues.

The song styles range from swampy, stompy numbers to lovely ballads. This is a rich album that grows in stature with each listening and which is also accessible to those new to the blues, and to Elrington. Elrington is an entertainer who knows how to reach an audience, and he does it on every song. 

Two Lucky Stars is out now through Only Blues Music.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Mamma Coal: Reimagining Willie Nelson's Outlaw Concept Album - 6 hours to go!

I meant to post this days ago but work got in the way ... still, there's six hours to go to get behind this great project:

'This bold country concept album will re-imagine Willie Nelson’s cinematic outlaw classic Red Headed Stranger, from the perspective of a mother fighting to protect her child in the wild west. The music will be recorded at Portland's beloved Type Foundry Recording Studio, giving work and income to some of the finest roots musicians in town. Contributing to this Kickstarter will support a seasoned independent country musician who is keeping the spirit of this American art form alive.'

Support Mamma Coal on Kickstarter here.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Video: 'Land of Gold' by Fanny Lumsden

For no reason other than this is one of my favourite songs from an album I can't stop playing - Small Town Big Shot - I'm posting the video for 'Land of Gold' by Fanny Lumsden. There's another reason, though: when I listen to this album it makes me want to drive some country roads that I know well but haven't seen in a while, and this video features some of the spectacular countryside of western New South Wales, in all its hues.

Small Town Big Shot is out now.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Album review: Southern Light by Sal Kimber

Sometimes when I'm writing a review I wonder if it's really worth saying much about an album. No doubt the artist would like to read more than a couple of words, to prove that I've properly listened to their work. Perhaps their existing fans would too. But people who are unfamiliar with their work might not have the interest or patience for a lot of words. They might just prefer a simple review that helps them make up their minds. 

So, if you aren't Sal Kimber or one of Sal Kimber's fans, I'll do the short review first: this album is seriously, truly wonderful. Buy it right now and enjoy it for years to come.

For those still reading, I'll say that I was already a fan of Kimber's but, for the purposes of reviewing (even when I'm reviewing The McClymonts, for whom I have always declared a bias), I keep an open mind. Southern Light, Kimber's third album and the second with her band The Rollin' Wheel, is a musical progression from her self-titled second. It has enough elements of country music to keep it in that genre but it slips towards 'alternative' rock/pop of the type that is hard to define - that is, the song structure involves verses, chorus and a bridge, so it looks like it might be rock, pop or country, but it's not any one genre in particular. The songs are just really great. 

There are several songs that are achingly beautiful enough to stop a person in their tracks, including the opener 'Stumble in the Dark', 'Cool Breeze' and 'Burrawang'. The pervading mood of the album is upbeat, which means it's impossible not to smile while listening to it. The songs and stories they contain also show that Kimber is a confident, versatile artist who sounds like she's released exactly the album she wants to. For me, as someone who listens to a lot of music, this kind of assurance is both exciting and a relief - I can hand over my time to Kimber and know she's not going to waste it, and I can get excited about what she's offering. I have no doubt you will feel that way too. 

Southern Light is out now.
Sal Kimber is on tour: dates at

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Album review: In America by Dianna Corcoran

It's been a few years since Dianna Corcoran lived in Australia but I guess we can still call her an 'Australian country music artist'. Listening to her new album, In America, brought back fond memories of seeing her performing in various locations, and especially of the first time I heard her sing. The first time I heard that voice. Live, Corcoran's voice is a pure instrument; she is a soprano with incredible range. Recordings never really do justice to such a voice, but In America is a good facsimile.

As the album's title hints, the lyrical content of the songs has some reference to the United States – 'Blame Carolina', 'When These Wheels Hit Tennessee' and 'Feels Like Hollywood' being the obvious examples. Other songs cover the highs and lows of love – 'God Did Good' has been in Corcoran's repertoire for a while, and 'Thank You for Cheating on Me' suggests that she's a woman who is able to see the bright side in any situation. And, overall, this is an upbeat album – it is a country-pop production that is certainly not for those who like their country music swampy.

While it seems as though Corcoran has travelled on a bit from her roots, this album also seems to fit the destiny of her voice: she has five octaves to work with and they deserve a big stage. In this age of Youtube breakthroughs and stringently organised radio playlists, it is smart business – not cynicism – for an artist to create an album that is something she can believe in and that's more likely to get her heard than singing about the Australian bush. In other words: if I was hoping for a different album, that's because of my own expectations. Corcoran has delivered an album that showcases her considerable talents and, hopefully, it will get her that bigger stage.

In America (Krian Music Group) is available now.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Album review: Black Ram by Lucas Paine

This seven-song album from North Carolinian/Melburnian Lucas Paine arrived as a link in my inbox, with the subject line to the email containing the words ‘new dark banjo record’. Folks, it is as described on the packet. There is plenty of banjo – beautifully played. There are some dark – sometimes really dark – lyrics. And there is darkness in the music too: not in the banjo but in the atmosphere created by the background sounds that sometimes push and pull the listener away from the song, in really interesting ways. 

The sound is also new – in that Paine’s sound is his own. When the first track, ‘Black Ram Shuffle’, began, I thought there were echoes of Neil Young in his voice but they evaporated quickly. Paine sings in a storytelling style and his voice is strong, and sometimes full of shadows, and always commanding. Indeed, his voice is the instrument that has the greatest presence in the mix, although the banjo is not its companion so much as its dance – and occasionally duelling – partner.

Black Ram reminded me of a collection of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, back when the endings were brutal and bloody, before they were made saccharine. The songs don’t always make for easy listening but they’re compelling, and challenging. This is an album for those who take their music seriously, just as Paine does. 

You can buy Black Ram from

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Album review: Spinning Wheels by Dana Hassall

If you need a reason to buy Spinning Wheels, the new album from Queensland artist and 2015 Toyota Star Maker grand finalist Dana Hassall, it comes in the first song, 'Fit Somewhere', in which Hassall's voice is immediately captivating. She sounds direct yet vulnerable - singing straight to the listener instead of commanding them to listen.

The album features a good blend of country, with traditional sounds appearing on 'Corner of the Street', pop sounds, as on the opening track 'Talking to a Stranger', and elements of rock ('Love Backwards'). It's clear that Hassall fits the style of music to the lyrics, which speaks to her maturity as an artist: she knows to get out of the way of any expectations or ideas she might have and give the song what it needs. 

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I love the album, and sometimes I wish reviews could be that simple and straightforward, except I also know that producing an album that evokes that response isn't a fluke and it isn't the work of a beginner, either. All wonderful pieces of art, whether they're albums or books or movies or paintings, are the sums of their parts - there is always, always, skill and hard work behind them. And there's also that element that exists in the ether, the element that makes them greater than the sum of their parts. Maybe 'talent' is what we call it. Or instinct. The instinct to deploy the talent in the best way possible. Hassall has it, and the album's producer, Matt Fell, might have helped coax it out of her but it had to be there anyway. 

From the sounds of this album, Hassall has the ability to entertain country, pop and rock audiences and do it in a way that all feel included. For me, as a listener, it's the poignant, wistful moments I love the most - but that's just me. Different people hear different things in songs, and happily Hassall has created an album in which there's a lot to discover.

Spinning Wheels is available now.
Dana Hassall is launching her album on 5 February at the Irish Club Hotel, Toowoomba, Qld and on the 6th at The Walrus Club, Brisbane.