Monday, November 1, 2010

Justin Townes Earle

November, 2010: One of the gigs that always appears on my very short muso-C.V. is the one where I supported Justin Townes Earle at the Annandale in 2008. That night, I managed to resist the general bewitching that he performed on all the girls in the audience. I thought, "Yes, he's an amazing performer, but his songs aren't that great." No matter how bewitching a performer, most solo artists, especially when you don't know their material, will start to sound very repetitive after forty minutes, let alone at the end of a ninety-minute set. But I recently heard a new song of his on Felicity Urquhart's 'Saturday Night Country' radio show, so I legally-downloaded* the album with the voucher I was given for being in Heat Nine of The Telstra Road To Tamworth. At first I said, "It's okay, but the songs are a bit samey, and I think he needs to get out and have a life, because the songs are either about being constantly on tour, or else lonely nights on tour, or problems that occur at home because you're constantly on tour." Then, after listen number two or three, something happened. I suppose it was the bewitching. Certainly, the songs on Harlem River Blues are very simple, almost entirely structured with 1, 4, 5 chords, and featuring oft-used (potentially hackneyed) phrases and words and themes - "wandering", "troubled mind", "Tell my father I tried". But something creeps in. His gnawing loneliness? And so he becomes a companion of the moment. "I've always been a fool for a conversation and a couple of smokes. And when I'm feeling this low I just need someone to laugh at my jokes." Apparently he is one of the world's twenty-five most stylish men. So it does occur to me that this album is predominantly style, and in a year, we will all have discarded it for the next stylish album. I hope not!

JTE looks rather tired and discouraged in a lot of his videos, presumably due to overwork, but here's one where he seems happy:

For the sake of contrast, here's one where he looks sick of the whole business:

*This legally-downloading business has been fun: I like Kasey & Shane's Rattlin' Bones and The McClymonts's first album, and at first I liked Teddy Thompson's A Piece Of What You Need but then it lost me.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Angie Hart

May, 2010: Adam Gibson took me to see Holidays On Ice about four years ago. Adam is a long-term fan of Angie Hart, and has even written a song about her, ‘Angie Hart Made Me Want To Move To Melbourne’ (he didn’t). The Aerial Maps perform that song, and as erstwhile Aerial Maps member, I’ve sometimes spoken Angie Hart’s part, which is meant to be along the lines of: “Hey, nice suit! Where did you get it? Let’s go to one of Melbourne’s many uncomfortable-but-trendy cafes and have the best coffee in Australia!” See, even writing my lines down now, I can’t resist meddling with them. Sometimes when my mic seemed to be low in the mix, the lines would degenerate into, “Hey, nice suit, wanna fuck?” Adam is a good sport, and I discovered it’s hard to ruffle him - in fact, he likes being ruffled. So we went along to the Sando to gaze at Angie Hart, and I quickly became almost as big an Angie Hart fan as Adam. She has a beautiful voice, and she gives a whole lot in her performance, but - even better - keeps something back for herself. She makes herself vulnerable, but is supremely self-composed. It’s a really interesting combination.
Much as I enjoyed the show, and especially the Angie/Ben Lee co-write, ‘Sand’, which haunted me for days afterwards, I didn’t follow up my new fandom. There was another Angie show at the Sando that I missed because my phone was on the blink and I got Erik’s message a week late. Then my sister rang up a couple of months ago, saying she’d just seen Angie play. One thing I love about my family is their/our memory for detail. There’s never the unsatisfying response, “Oh, I don’t know, just because.” Julia described the show evocatively, quoted slabs from the songs she’d liked best, and provided me with speculations (and evidence) about the current state of Angie’s personal life. So I went out and bought Eat My Shadow. I’m not crazy about the production - it’s too diverse, too embellished. Angie Hart doesn’t need embellishment, and the diversity is in the content and mood of her songs. The songs are top quality. All are co-writes; as the lyrics are so idiosyncratic, inimitable, I would guess the co-writer contributes mainly (or exclusively) to the music and arrangement. The song I had to listen to many times per day became ‘LITTLE BRIDGES’, a co-write with Mark Seymour, and a duet with Bonnie Prince Billy. It brought on a much-needed cry, and going through the lyrics in my mind soothed a very unpleasant anger that was waking me up in the middle of the night. The whole song is naked and beautiful. It makes me shiver. There is nothing obscure in any of Angie’s songs - she wants you to be able to figure out what it was that prompted her to write the song. But they’re completely poetic: “Some people talk, and some people do - there are two kinds of ways to pass the time. I heard, through a door, a conversation; I heard your voice, I heard a name, and it was mine. The picture that you painted was black and white - there were no shining lights or shades of grey. You made me sound like I was a stranger; I should have turned and closed the door and walked away.” I’d like to transcribe the whole song. I feel excited (relieved!) that such an excellent songwriter is living and working in our time and geographical location. “Do you take great comfort in believing all the things you think I am that you are not? Does it put safe distance between us? Was it something that I said that I forgot?”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mary Kay Place

March, 2010: In March, I spent three weeks rewriting the ending of Earthly Things, now known (I think) as Dust, on the veranda of the Railway Hotel in Koorawatha. Several days after arriving (arrival: stepping down from the Countrylink coach with 21kgs of books and food, Sunday 4pm, looking across the Olympic Highway at the pub, rallying myself as though the pub were a treacherous pass I now had to cross) I thought, erroneously, “This is a place where, when someone new appears, not only does everyone know about it, but they also know who he or she is related to.” It was the most beautiful season: hot days, cool nights, and a day of torrential rain, when the hill at the end of the main street was completely obscured by the rain. Drifts of native bluebells, silky grasses. Soon enough, I began to think of ‘STREETS OF THIS TOWN (ODE TO FERNWOOD)’, sung by Mary Kay Place for a ‘70s TV show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and written by Paul Grady. This song describes a country town that is a ghost of what it once was, where the past is bigger and noisier than the present. This atmosphere - the one you pick up when wandering around a rundown, half-deserted country town - is something I think of as my bread-and-butter. It sets me off into daydreams: it’s imagination provoking. I hadn’t heard or played this song for several years, and it came back to me in full over a few days of memory-racking. I’d never been able to decipher the whole of the last verse; when I first learnt the song about seven years ago, I even checked it out – in vain – on the Google. This time, I just made it up, pleased to be able to cut a notch in the song that would always remind me of my three weeks in Koora. Here’s the last verse: “The streets tonight are quiet and serene/ Dream a dream of things that might have been/ Just a trace of the lives/ Of the hearts broken, the fortunes lost/ As I walk down streets of this town, I can see what was.” I also made a change in the second verse: “Smoke from the tip blown in by a high lonesome breeze.” In the original, the smoke comes from the factory, which is inapplicable to Koora. I sang “wheat-fields” (Americanising “paddocks”) until the afternoon they burnt off at the tip.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Brooke McInerney

January, 2010: My cousin Brooke, who’s now in Seoul (not “into soul”, as misheard by Darren) briefly stopped in Sydney en route from Koorawatha back to Korea. Months previously, we’d planned a large, family sing-sing for the eve of New Year’s Day, which was fine for me as I’d spent the previous night walking the city streets with Tim, but maybe not so ideal for my brothers, who positioned themselves gently on the sofa, at a safe distance from our loud, enthusiastic voices. We sang for hours. My highlights: the songs where Ada played the bass notes on piano, or sang the chorus - ‘Long Black Veil’ and Bob Wills’s ‘Stay All Night’; then ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, ‘Stormy Weather’ (co-written by inner-west resident Leo Sayer) and ‘Jamestown Ferry’, which Brooke and I have sung together often enough now that we are pretty solid on our parts; Jimmie Rodgers’s ‘Waiting For A Train’, which is a favourite of my uncle’s; ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’, which Brooke played – I was surprised by the fourth chord; and I loved it when everyone else (more quietly) joined in for the album that had been a favourite of both households, Best Of The West, Vol. 1, which includes ‘Battle Of New Orleans’, ‘Stand By Your Man’, ‘North To Alaska’, ‘El Paso’. But my favourites are always Brooke’s songs. She’d emailed me ‘YOU’RE THE ONLY HANDSOME MAN LEFT NOW THAT PAUL NEWMAN’S DIED’, and it’s always thrilling finally to match the harmony I’ve separately worked up to the real-life voice. Brooke’s songs always have at least a few sharp edges, and although ‘…PAUL NEWMAN…’ (best ever song title) is strictly a love song, “Sometimes I feel like you’re my only home”, it’s one written by a very restless rambler, who, on her travels, says in her brutal way, “If I could forget you, life would be so easy”. But, damn it, she can’t! Wes, Brooke’s boyfriend, said, “What do you say, Lucy?: ‘They’re all fictional’.”