21st Century Reviews

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

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.


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