I was raised in what one Australia's most famous country music artists, Adam Harvey, calls the two hillbilly heavens of Australia: Central Coast and Tamworth in New South Wales.
I am a massive fan of all kinds of music but I am always drawn back to country music in its 79 types, blues and folk. I can’t sing, dance or play but I can write about music. I run a blog called Country As countryas.wordpress.com which covers news, gigs, reviews of albums and profiles. Most of my writings are about Indie Artists. I am a regular gig and festival goer and I have a massive cd and record collection. I am a librarian by trade and have guested on Community Radio and in some publications. Essentially, I am a fan. Music is as essential to me as breathing.
Australia has never been so strong in the Alt. Country Music Scene. Alt. Country is known in America as Americana, and to most of us, it isn’t alternative country music, it is real country music.
I received an email a few years ago from the organizers of the Tamworth Country Music Festival (our Nashville), and they asked me to select from 79 types of country music that were on display at the festival that I had just attended. That is how broad the field is these days.
Like life, music is about balance. The success of Australian Country Music is about a healthy blend of the old and the new, the experienced and the fresh new talent and the original songwriting that represents all forms of music, whether it be country or otherwise.
This first edition of Down Under Beats is an introduction to many of the great sounds and amazing artists that we have here in Australia. Some names you may know, others you will know in the future. We have a great team of mentors here in Australia, who are teaching their tricks to the new brigade, and eventually, they will pay it forward.
I will go in to more detail about the artists in future editions, but for now, here is a glimpse at some of Australia’s best.
Producing and Re-producing
Australian Country Music boasts some of the best producers. Most of these guys are successful musicians themselves. Shane Nicholson, Rod McCormack, Matt Fell, Michael Carpenter, Nash Chambers, Roger Corbett, Stuie French and many others. These guys are not just playing their own music, they are looking after not just one artist, but a whole stable of talents. If you don’t know them now, you soon will.
Songwriting and Songwriters
Once upon a time, Australian artists relied on doing covers of American artists or sang songs that did not reflect our country or our way of life. Then we had a handful of artists who had people write songs for them and they weren’t always a good fit or we were never really convinced of anything. We had a couple of exceptions to the rule who lived their songs and they stood out like The Sydney Opera House amongst the throng. Now we have a host of skilled songwriters, including Allan Caswell and Mike Carr, who are mentoring and co-writing with a new generation of songwriters and a new crop is being harvested. The variety and quality of the new generation is phenomenal and it is a great launch pad for the future of Australian Alt. Country music. While the music is uniquely Australian in many respects, it is still music that can touch a nerve or a heart anywhere around the world.
Australia used to just have a few music festivals, some of which aren’t in operation anymore. Now, every weekend there is at least one music festival on in Australia, sometimes two or three. Every state and Territory of Australia has at least one major festival on now, with New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland having the majority of music festivals.
Tamworth Country Music Festival is probably the best known in Australia. Tamworth’s sister city is Nashville, so that probably says enough. When the festival started back in 1973, there was only one venue. This year there were 120 venues and the festival has gone from a couple of days into 10 days with a pre-Tamworth festival on as well. You can go to the free gigs at pubs and clubs and wander down the main street and listen to the buskers or you can go to the headline acts for reasonable prices. The festival rounds out with The Golden Guitars, which is Australia’s answer to the CMA’s, or in our case, the CMAAs.
There are a number of Country and Blues and Roots Festivals in Australia that are essential markings on a calendar each year and many new ones that are starting to emerge. From the rough and tumble Deni Ute Muster, to the more traditional Mildura Country Music Festival and the easy coastal festivals of Byron Bay, Port Fairy and Broadbeach. Some are intimate, unique festivals like Hats Off in July at Tamworth and Tasmania’s growing festival to the bigger festivals in Adelaide, Western Australia and Far North Queensland.
Indies vs the big record label artists
Australian singer/songwriters are largely indies in the country music/folk/blues field. Some of the artists who are signed to big labels were originally indies. It is becoming more popular to those who seriously consider their artistic merit to stick with being Indie Artists. It is not always easy to be an Indie Artist, especially in Australia, where it is hard enough to get recognition even when you are signed to a major label, let alone being your own captain. However, all of the blood, sweat and tears seem to be worth it, when the artists remain true to themselves and true to their fans. I am not saying that all artists who sign to big labels lose their essence, but some do, and more importantly, they lose control and flexibility.
Only a few musos go on to make big money and fame. Most true musicians are not in it for that. Calling it the music business is a bit of an oxymoron. Most musicians don’t have heads for business and most business people don’t know anything about music.
The musos work very hard, driving to remote places for gigs, sometimes to just face a handful of people in the crowd. Many do unpaid gigs, often just for the dreaded “exposure” word, sometimes being fortunate enough to sell a few cds and other merchandise at these gigs. Mike Carr has written and co-written many songs for Australian Artists, but how many people know his own work or his name, for example. Most musos just want to make a living doing what they love best and what they are so good at. They don’t necessarily want to be rich and famous.
On Top Down Under – So far this year.....
Some of the best albums and artists this year in the Alt. Country movement have been surprises and hard workers who are finally getting some notice like: The April Family’s “What We Know Now”, Matt Henry’s “Love Without Co-Dependency”, Billy Pitt and Jarrod Hickling’s “ Home is Where It Began”, The Weeping Willows, Fanny Lumsden, John Flanagan, The Long and Short of It, Michael Waugh, Imogen Clark and many others. I will be featuring many of these artists and many more in upcoming articles on Down Under Beats.
The Versatility of some of our artists is amazing. Melinda Schneider, who is the daughter of one of Australia’s best yodellers, Mary, and a performer herself since she was 3 years old, is now one of the new veterans in Australian Country Music. Not only is she a gifted singer/songwriter and multi award winning talent, but she is also the co-creator and star of two Doris Day tribute shows and albums. Melinda can sing anything from scat to power ballads, to blues to country and jazz. There is not much that Melinda hasn’t tried in the Australian Music scene. Allison Forbes, one of our most amazing singer/songwriters in Alt. Country Music has also taken to the stage in the rock musical “ Rock of Ages”. She is also doing a form of dancing with the stars for the Cancer Foundation. Darren Coggan has a new album called “The Wide Horizon” singing his own songs but he has also been doing tours with one of our best guitarists, Michael Fix and performing “Peace Train – The Cat Stevens Story “ to sellout audiences. These are just some examples of the flexibility of some of our stars.
New albums from some of our best: Aleyce Simmonds with probably her best album so far, “More Than Meets The Eye”; Dean Perrett with “Aussie Favourites – Bluegrassed”, Carter and Carter’s “Better Day”, James Blundell’s “Campfire”, Tania Kernaghan’s “All Australian Girl”, all artists who are as strong as ever.
Ashleigh Dallas, like Tania, is a member of one of Australia’s Country Music Royal Families, and her Lighthouse album is just smashing. Kalesti Butler proves that trad. Country is not dead with a unique twist on torch and twang with her album, Airborne. Veteran bluesy country artist, Kerry Kennedy gave us a special treat with his Have A Good Time album. Two of the best of the year have come in releases from Matt Cornell “My Soundtrack” and Melody Moko’s EP which is a teaser for her album to come later in the year. Sandra Humphries’ fabulous offering “Walking in Circles” is bound to be up there when award nights come around.
Victoria continues to provide many of our best alternative country musos, who write or co-write their own songs, video clips and do extensive tours. The small state to the south of the east coast of Australia has a big cultural vibe. Some of our best actors, writers, painters and musicians have come from Victoria. Country Music, particularly Country Folk and Alt. Country are at their strongest ever there.
Coming soon to a turntable near you...or Itunes if you must....
Gretta Ziller is releasing her new album soon – can’t wait for this long overdue release from one of Australia’s most multi-skilled performers. She has been busy touring with Andrew Swift in a very unique tour, travelling to Caravan Parks (Trailer Parks) around the country and performing.
Jodie Crosby, one half of Tamworth’s well known Crosby Sisters is releasing a solo album. Her first single, Hello, was written by her son, Ethan and has soared up the country charts. The long awaited album is due out next month.
Anthony Taylor, one of Australia’s unsung country crooners should have his album out this year. He is very well respected by his peers and this should be a fabulous release.
Col Finley, one of our best known Indies, has been heavily campaigning the release of his latest album, which will be out soon. Col’s music is very bluesy, very personal and very catchy. His stories are very easy to relate to.
As mentioned before, Melody Moko, one performer that I heavily recommend that you watch, has an album in the making.
Melissa Robertson, who is best described as a Country Folk Artist, is writing some new material and a new album or EP is on the horizon.
New music is also coming from country rocker, Ben Ransom, who is very flexible in his music and many others are also working on new releases.
Tracey Davis who plays a multitude of instruments as well as having one of the sweetest voices around is releasing an EP soon.
One of my favourites and a fellow Tamworth gal, Sally-Anne Whitten, who is what we like to call the Queen of Soultry, (country soul) has been writing some new music, which is surely to feature her guitar genius hubby, Alwyn Aurisch.
I have been pushing Singer/Songwriter, Craig Stewart, to do a follow up to his Frontier album from last year and I am pretty sure that he has taken the hint and continuing his voyage through Australian History with a Frontier 2 album.
A young fella who is very exciting to listen to – he puts a very fresh twist into traditional sounds – Angus Gill, is doing it all at the moment, he is the complete package and I can’t wait to hear his new music.
I hope that Susan Lily will release some new music soon. She is busy setting the South Australian country music scene alight with regular gigs in Adelaide as well as doing some dj work, like lots of country music artists do.
Two of my absolute favourite singer/songwriters in this country, Darren Colston and Luke O’Shea are due for new albums. I hope that they release some new stuff soon.
Hitting the high C’s
Johanna Hemara, our yodelling, tribute show regular and constant traveller, continues to hit the high seas literally, for Australia, with regular shows on cruises. Tamara Stewart, one of our most gifted songwriters has been songwriting over in Nashville, as has Kristy Cox and her husband, Travis List, and many of our other Aussie talents are making their homes away from home over there. Kirsty-Lee Akers, Morgan Evans, O’Shea, Katrina Burgoyne, Dianna Corcoran and many others are starting to make a mark in the U.S.A. Amber Lawrence, one of our finest and Beccy Cole, probably Australia’s Best Entertainer, were guests at the recent Coral Sea Anniversary in U.S.A. Some bloke called Keith Urban is doing ok over there too.
Many of the artists that I have mentioned (and many that I haven’t) are hugely talented Aussies that most of the world don’t know about. In the coming months, I hope, in some small way, to change that perception. We have some amazing singer/songwriters in Australia and it is about time that the rest of the world gets to know them and love them like we do.
Hooroo until next time,