21st Century Reviews

You liked Roaring Jack, you might like some of the recent releases reviewed here!

24 January 2008

Murder The Stout - Murder The Stout (self-released, 2006)

This Texan five-piece plays traditional Irish music with a rocky edge. Traditional instruments (accordion, mandolin, tin whistle and acoustic guitar) are augmented by Berkley (bass) and Jonathan (drums) to produce a roaring folk sound not unlike the earliest Pogues.

The album opens with a lively romp through 'Roddy McCorley'. Lead vocalist Gerard, an Irish expatriate, sings in a likeable, tuneful growl that suits the up-tempo music very nicely. We get treated to some well-known songs, including 'Fields of Athenry', 'The Rare Old Mountain Dew', 'Whiskey in the Jar' and 'Wild Irish Rover'. Most songs are propelled by Hugh's stellar accordion, a sound that works in well with the whistle (Gerard) and mandolin/guitar (Neil).

Some of the tune combinations are real master strokes. 'Fields of Athenry' somehow melds into the wonderful tune "Merrily Kissed the Quaker', while the '3 Drunken Maidens Medley' throws in some famous American tunes like 'O Susannah' and (appropriately) 'Deep in the Heart of Texas'. But for me, the most sublime moment is the fantastic reworking of 'Botany Bay', book-ended by traditional tunes 'Off to California' and 'Peat Fire Flame'. This tracks's an instant classic.

Here's a debut album that contains a lot of familiar tunes and famous songs, played with an edge that no doubt makes Murder The Stout a most impressive live band. One can easily imagine their gigs developing into raucous singalongs and stompathons. Any chance of an Australian tour, lads?

17 January 2008

Waiting For Guinness - Friend Or Foe (Vitamin, 2007)

Put the music of the 20th century in a blender, and this is what you might get. You'd be forgiven for taking the band name and concluding that we have another bunch of Pogues clones here, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sure there are raging accordions and there are some pretty sharp hats and suits, but that's where the comparison ends. (Unless we're talking about the post-Shane Pogues, which had an extraordinarily eclectic and not-very-Irish sound!)

This Sydney septet (that's right, seven at last count) have been around for over ten years and recently released their third album, Friend Or Foe. An insane blast of horns launches 'Cadaver Swing', and those horns are soon joined by exotic stringed instruments and menacing vocals. Quite a few tracks show a distinct Mexican and Latin American influence, most notably the beautiful instrumental 'Wedding March'. One of the most touching and memorable tunes I've heard in a while.

For fans of Roaring Jack and Weddings Parties Anything, special recommendation goes to 'Thank God For Maconochie'. If you've read Robert Hughes's The Fatal Shore and other tales of Australia's brutal convict days, you'll be familiar with characters like Alexander Maconochie, the kindly (well, relatively speaking!) commandant on Norfolk Island, and poor Charles Anderson, the brain-damaged convict chained to a rock on Goat Island. It's great to hear the lives of these characters resurrected in song, and here's a song that deserves to be added to folk music's convict songbook along with 'Sons of Liberty', 'A Tale They Won't Believe' and so many great ballads of uncertain origin.

There's a lot here for anybody with an open mind about their music. At various moments on this album, I am reminded of Tom Waits, Les Negresses Vertes, The Jackson Code, Monsieur Camembert, Los Lobos and many others, but only for a second. Then Waiting For Guinness moves on, going down a completely different path. Hope you're up for a pretty wild ride.

16 January 2008

Perry Keyes - The Last Ghost Train Home (Laughing Outlaw, 2007)

It's hard not to like a songwriter who faultlessly combines rock and rugby league so passionately. It's a long time ago since I saw Perry and the Stolen Holdens blasting out their tunes at the Sando. This CD is a major step forward that hopefully will give him some long overdue recognition. I still haven't heard his previous double CD Meter, but if it's half as good as this then I'll be buying it soon. Great songwriters like Perry take you to a time and place that you haven't experienced.

I hate relating songwriters to fellow musicians but on this CD there is a very strong sense of a Springsteen or Tom Petty in their prime being relocated to Redfern circa 1970's.

'The Day John Sattler Broke His Jaw' kicks off proceedings with Perry's incisive lyrics, Ed Kairous's evocative guitar and an urgent rhythm section. Memories of childhood fill this CD, especially on the emotive 'Kids Day' and 'Sideshow Alley' reminding us of those fun lost times at the Sydney Showground. Try creating that same atmosphere at Homebush!

Got to be honest and say I like the rockin' tunes like 'Double on The Main Game'. But Perry is so brilliantly reflective on slower songs like 'Matthew Talbot's Blanket' and 'In Ancient Rome' that one can't skip any song. Each song is a emotional journey that makes you feel you are there at the time. With all the obscure references to Sydney culture - and especially to rugby league football - you might need to use Perry's thoughtfully-compiled glossary to develop a finer appreciation of his art.

'The Last Ghost Train Home' finishes paradoxically, asking us if we would be happy in the past. I'd be happy if this world weary songwriter finally sold some CDs so he didn't have to drive a taxi. But then where would all these streetsmart songs come from? And how come I never get a taxi driver like Perry, so full of stories and tales? One thing I would tell him is that he's made my album of 2007. (Perce Blakeney)

15 January 2008

Fifty Million Beers – Ashfield Skyline (Vitamin, 2007)

Roaring Jack and Fifty Million Beers would surely have crossed paths way back in the late ‘80s. Both bands were denizens of Sydney’s inner west and both played regularly at venues like the Sandringham Hotel in Newtown and the Harold Park Hotel in Glebe. Twenty years, several line-up changes and a few break-ups later, and Fifty Million Beers are still with us. It’s a pity that many of their favourite pub venues are not!

Fifty Million Beers were always influenced by country music in a big way, and lazy journos always made sure that the phrase ‘country and inner western’ appeared somewhere in articles and reviews about the band. The title of this album might be a clever Sydney twist on Bob Dylan’s classic country-style LP, but there’s more to this album than simply uprooting Nashville and dropping it on an unsuspecting suburb of Sydney.

The band’s third album kicks off with the bluesy, boozy ‘I’ve Been Told’. Immediately the alarm bells are ringing. Hey – this ain’t country! Or if it is, it’s certainly a lot darker, sparser and more sinister than I’d remembered. On ‘Breakin’ Even’, we get to hear Graham Griffith pour his heart out via his pedal steel guitar, but it’s still not a typical country sound. The song’s theme of love lost through gambling might have been done before, but not with lyrics like these:

We don’t need no wedding band
She knows I won’t desert her
That’s what she said before that wedding band
Turned up at Cash Converters.

Charlie MacLean’s vocals are strong yet world-weary, and perfectly suited for this band’s music. It reminds me sometimes of Martin Plaza of Mental As Anything, but don’t let that put you off. MacLean turns in a particularly effective performance on the piano-driven ballad, ‘One Fool’s Gold’. Throughout the album, the musicianship of Graham Griffith, Mark Cornwall (bass), J.D. Love (guitar) and Keith Newman (drums) is extraordinary. It takes a lot of beer and bonding for a band to sound this tight.

Other highlights include the classic line ‘Why do fools rush in to fix a heart if it ain’t broke?’ (‘If It Ain’t Broke’), the tender mandolin solo on ‘So Much Time’ and the image conjured up in my mind when ‘the Telstra Tower’s rusting in the propane breeze’ (‘Ashfield Skyline’).

A great album that captures the sound of love, loss and laughter on Parramatta Road.

11 January 2008

The Handsome Young Strangers - Shane Warne EP (Code One, 2007)

The assistant at Redeye Records in Sydney actually knew what I was talking about when I asked for this one. Perhaps more people know about this new “young” Sydney band than I thought. Inspired by the wonderful Bushwackers (a late discovery for me), these guys play a mad mix of bush ballads, colonial rock and everything in between. The EP bowls off with the lighthearted tribute to Shane Warne. Love him or hate him, this is a fun journey through his celebrated career.

Next is my personal fave ‘Tanooka’. A strong ballad reminiscing about those great days when you could actually see a live band at your local every day. Who wouldn't cry about the days when you could see “Roaring Jack at the Sando”. Worth buying just for this gem of a lyric.

Then follows a playful and funny run-through of the classic ‘Woolloomooloo Lair’. The band really gets into full stride before closing with Bogle’s mighty ‘The Green Fields of France’. But arguably the best song is a mystery track written about the destruction and heartbreak of drought in the bush.With simple guitar and harmonica these highlights the strength of this band's original stuff. Strong lyrics and great playing with a healthly dose of larrikin spirit. Definitely worth a look live and can't wait to hear more material! (Perce Blakeney)