Down Under Beats #8
By Kaz Johnson
Welcome to this week’s edition of Down Under Beats.
You can’t tell that old joke anymore
The joke is still being told by some people, but those who know country music and all of its 79 types these days, know not to laugh at the punchline, because it’s just not true anymore. For those who don’t know about the old joke, it goes something like this: “Did you know if you play a country music song backwards, you get the wife back, the truck back, the farm back and the dog back?” There are a few variations in the things that you get back, but basically that is it. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but country music is so much more. I am a ballad girl, mostly, so I tend to play more slow tracks but there are so many different kinds of songs in the country music genre that deal with just about every kind of situation in life and beyond it that. Every note is covered, though three chords and the truth are still there and they should be, because you should never forget the roots of where your songs came from. It has been said, by people wiser than myself, that a lot of young people are getting into the alt. Country scene these days because they are disillusioned with the mainstream music that is being offered. The amount of kids getting into the country music genre these days is phenomenal. They are even writing their own songs at 14 and 15 and even younger in some cases. Whether they stick to it in the long run or go to “the darkside” and crossover in the future like some others have, is yet to be seen. We have people like Emma Jene (18, she was 16 when her first album came out), Phoebe Jay (she’s about 15/16) was 14 when her first big hit came out, a protest song for the farmers; Kora Naughton, 15, who has a big hit at the moment with her song, Wrong, and there are many others.
In the ICMA awards to be announced in January next year, the nominations for the category of the Encouragement Award have been extended because of the amount of young folks who all deserve a nomination. My co-host on the community radio show that I guest on is stunned (and he is a veteran muso and radio announcer) at the quantity and quality of young folks coming through. It is the nature of the genre to tell a story. Yes, a lot of the songs, no matter what the beat, are about love and loss and rural life. There are just as many folks from the city who are getting into the country music scene now and telling stories which are universal. Two of our greatest female artists, Melinda Schneider and Amber Lawrence write some of the best country songs in Australia, yet they are from the city. The old joke is sour now. I have many friends and colleagues who cringe at country music. I play it in the background at dinner parties and they say that is great, and I say, “No, you can’t possibly like that, it is country music.” The walls are coming down, the cynics are still there, but mostly it is because they have that old joke in their head and they haven’t opened their eyes, ears and hearts to all of the wonderful new music that is out there. Sometimes it is good not to be trendy, though. The blues and roots music has been around for donkeys’ years, (as we say in Australia), and it will still be here when we are all dead and gone. The same can’t be said for bubblegum music.
A Legend returns
Mike McClellan has released a lot of music over the years, however, as with most well known artists, they have a signature song. If you mention his name to most music lovers in Australia the song that comes to mind first is “Song and Dance Man”. It is one of the classic songs in Australian Country Music history and probably Australian Music History. “The One I Love” is probably the second most well known song. It is fair to say that we haven’t heard a lot from Mike for a while. He is back in the limelight again, appearing this week at Sydney’s The Basement (one of my favourite venues – it is perfect for our genre) and he is launching his brand new album, No Intermission. I heard a couple of tracks off it the other day (I will review the album soon) and it is definitely a change of pace. At the launch he will be using some of the best musos in the business in his band: Michael Carpenter, Matt Fell and Glen Hannah to name a few.
It is indicative of the way that the music is going and growing in our genre. Legends are working with young musicians and producers and mentoring them and learning from them. There are a lot of collaborations going on between the generations. Our songs are based on storytelling, it is often the same story told from different views. It is good to see Mike back with new music. I still hum Song and Dance Man, though.
Amber Joy Poulton:
South Australia has some great artists who are either born and bred there or have moved there to live a more relaxed lifestyle from some of Australia’s busiest places. A.J. is a South Australian and she is so diverse with her country music styles. Amber is well known in Australian Country Music circles for her tribute shows. She does several at Tamworth Country Music Festival and has had sold out shows across the country. She does tributes to Loretta Lynn, Shania Twain, and lots of other famous women in country. Sometimes she does the shows with fellow South Australian, Sandra Humphries, already featured here. However, Amber’s own music, especially her work on Foolish Things, (one of my favourite albums) is equal to the legends whom she portrays in her shows. This album has the 70’s classic country feel, but most of the songs are original. She does two great duets as well with Sam Hawksley and Australia’s other Amber, Amber Lawrence. Amber Joy is clearly most at home with the more traditional sounding Country Music, but she has a go at everything, including a bit of country gospel and the more modern sounds. She has a new album out soon. I can’t wait.
Matt has been around for a while but with his latest EP (or EEP as I call them because they are more like an extended extended play), Matt has come of age. He has done a lot of solo work but mainly he has worked with others in recent years as part of a super band of Australian male singers and songwriters. My Soundtrack is a fine piece of work which will feature in the Golden Guitars in January, I’m sure. He has gathered a new audience and his work is his best ever. The EEP is getting a lot of air play and he has also been featured on CMC quite regularly. He is definitely one to watch. He has been on slow burn but he is now on fire.
Brett is one of the Tamworth mob and he is a very humble country music artist. His album, Standing Back, has been critically acclaimed and it even won an International award for it. He has been on Australia’s version of The Voice. He has a beautiful voice. He is a solid songwriter and he is has quite a cult following. Brett has a big future, given the airplay and encouragement.
Dana has a very folky feel. She is part of the large alt. Country movement in Austalia. Her songwriting capabilities are tremendous. Her song, Like Snow written with Luke O’Shea is phenomenal. So much so, that Luke did his version on his album which was released at about the same time. Her Spinning Wheels album is excellent. Every track is a winner. All of the songs on the album are either written or co-written by Dana. She does something unique on the album, she does a “Behind the Songs” track where she explains every song on the album. It is a very relaxing, easy to listen to album of sad songs and struggles. Dana will be around for a long time.
Jade is an interesting artist. She is not your regular country music singer, she blends country pop, country rock, a little bit of blues and a lot of attitude in her songs. She can rip up the floor and mellow you out. Jade has a big personality and it shows in her music, whether she is breaking your heart (or having her heart broken) or revving it up. She is an artist to be reckoned with and one who can tick all of the boxes.
Broadbeach Country Music Festival
There is a country music or blues and roots festival on just about every weekend in Australia, these days, sometimes 3 or 4 going at the same time. One of the biggest in the last few years is the Broadbeach Country Music Festival, which is a free festival on the beachfront on Queensland’s Gold Coast. This year it is on from the 28th to 30th July. Legendary American band, America, are appearing but it is chiefly Australian artists, particularly Indies. The festival is free. Some of the acts performing are: The Weeping Willows, Shane Nicholson, Roo Arcus, NeillyRich, Kerry Kennedy, Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes, Georgia Fall, Fanny Lumsden, Col Finley, Drew McAlister, Benn Gunn, Ben Ransom, Aleyce Simmonds, Kasey Chambers and Troy Cassar-Daley. It is winter in Australia, but the sun shines brightly on this territory most days of the year. The festival is still in its infancy, but each year it builds. Some of these artists I have featured on this blog, others will be featured in the next few weeks.
There are lots of new singles about at the moment with the promise of albums to come just around the corner. Rick Hart, Brad Butcher, Shane Nicholson, Gretta Ziller, Fanny Lumsden, Carpenter and Caswell and many others are teasing us with some new songs and hinting about what will be on the albums with launches due. Two of our brightest stars, who are only in their thirties but they are already considered on the cusp of being legendary, given their amount of works over a long period of time, have ensured us of a tour soon and are about to launch an album. Golden Guitar winners, Travis Collins and Amber Lawrence have produced a duets album, but it is all their own work, all originals. It is a surprise to most of us and we are looking forward to the release.
The End Bit
I am looking forward to talking about some new albums and gigs that are going to be out in a rush soon. In the meantime, if you want to check out more of the artists that I focus on, check out my blog on Wordpress – Country As, and/or tune in on-line or on demand to Countryon, 2GLF 89.3 FM - Bob Browne with Kaz Johnson 12-3, Tuesdays.
Until next time,