Country and Western

CD Review – The Sea Thieves 2011 CD “They Will Run”

Genre: Folk, Country, Alternative

“The Sea Thieves” comprises Zac Coligan and Naomi Thompson who are also the owner/operators of well known Adelaide entertainment venue The Jade Monkey. “They Will Run” is the bands second release, with the local duo teaming up with former Zac’s former “Bergerac” band mates Jed Palmer, Steve Griffiths and Zoe Barry to add colour and shade.

“They will run” is available as a digital download through Bandcamp, or, if you are a traditionalist you can order the CD. There’s some interesting art work associated with this release, so it might be worthwhile ordering the CD. The artwork is also available on the bands various web presences, but I will let you search for them; you might end up at the web site for an English society of mock pirates, which in itself is an amusing diversion…

From the various notes I have read, the songs were mostly recorded at the Jade Monkey and mastered and mixed over a period months, allowing for some interesting and obscure sound effects and samples to be added, creating an almost indescribable genre.

A singing saw carves through meandering waves of tinkering clockworks; water splashes against gently vibrating nylon strings to create an eclectic mood. A mood of distance pervades, emanating from piles of old vinyl stacked in hidden rooms that were once filled with the echoes of children, frogs and sadder times. A hushed voice croons innocent fairy tales littered with subtexts of tortured dreams whispered in the dusk.

This is an unique piece of musical art; The Sea Thieves have created a rare ambience with their 10 tracks.

Slowly marching out of the mist, “Where that somewhere is” announces itself and the start of the album, with bells, clocks and a distant marching voice. The clockwork continues with “Spark of your enemies”, replete with mandolin and quiet storytelling. The joyous singing saw think spaghetti western) introduces “Focus the stars” and is accompanied by acoustic guitar and mandolin.

The main vocals are all Zac’s, except the title track, “They will Run”, which is Naomi’s. The mood of the album is unaffected by the change in vocalist, other than the creation of a new point of view.

This is not an album of catchy pop tunes, and while the songs have a beat, they really aren’t the kind of beats to tap your feet to, but they are infectious. The more you listen the more you hear, and the more you hear the more you want to listen.

At first play “They Will Run” might appear to have a narrow appeal to collectors of eclectic alternative folk music, but this album has something to offer to anyone prepared to listen and lose themselves in its artistry. There are rich rewards embedded buried in this gem of a release for those who take the time to listen.


CD Review – Self Preservation Society 2010 EP “Gone with the Wind”

Genre: Alt Country, Blues, Folk, Roots, Spoken Word

“Gone with the Wind” is Tristan Newsome’s third and final EP in the trilogy that chronicles a semi-fictional road-trip with the elusive conspirator HW Bones. In order to properly appreciate the context of “Wind” listeners should acquaint themselves with the two previous EPs (“#42” and “Tamworth City Streets”), however, this is not essential as this short collection of 5 tracks can be sampled in isolation.

The narrative developed in “#42” and “Tamworth” is maintained in this release, with HW Bones persisting as a disruptive and possibly imaginary influence on our protagonist’s life. Back inAdelaideafter the road-trip fromQueensland“A Phone Call Home” is a narrative, read aloud but possibly representative of a stream of consciousness, accompanied by jarring acoustic plucking and dustbowl winds. HW Bones has met a girl at the Grace Emily and abandoned his friend. The empty telephone conversation and discursive musings describe the empty loneliness, real or imagined, of a mind abandoned and floundering for reality.

The grungy acoustic/electric of “Outlawed Action Man” is reminiscent of The White Stripes, but without the drum. This fierce, angry country rock tune, describes the potentially violent reunion and confrontation with the wild HW Bones.

The anger and hurt of loss is tempered by acceptance and life goes on. “Firing Lines” is an acoustic melodic love song, evoking images of Clark Gable waltzing joyfully, the tails of his coat gaily flapping as he swirls through the ballroom. “Yeah I’m still drinking, yeah I’m alright” is the false bravado covering the pain and anguish just below the surface, the “hush fingered firing line” ready to fire and end it all.

Rounding out the EP is “Old Man Blues”, which is part Bob Dylan folk, part Charlie Patton blues, and part Tristan Newsome hunting down the devilish HW Bones. The acoustic folk/bluegrass “Different Towns” is a forlorn retrospective of what was, and what could have been.

There’s a lot to like about Tristan Newsome’s voice, his song-writing, and his ability to craft an interesting story. This third EP concludes the trilogy with a consistency across the three releases.


CD Review – Self Preservation Society 2010 double EP “#42” and “Tamworth City Streets”

Genre: Alt Country, Blues, Folk, Roots, Spoken Word

Tristan Newsome is the smooth voiced troubadour who fronted the now disbanded local group “The Flying Squad”. Self Preservation Society is Tristan’s new venture; a paired back vehicle for presenting his acoustic tunes and stories of life on the road.

The songs on these EP’s are inspired by Tristan’s road-trip from Brisbane toTamworth. Tristan’s pilgrimage is shared by an elusive but chaotic character called ‘H W Bones’ – an imaginary friend of sorts, but more the creation of a gonzo lyricist than that of a child living a world of fantasy. You can see how this collection of songs would emerge from a lonely road trip with nothing but an acoustic guitar and an imaginary friend for company.

The EP’s are released through “quiet pop” a relatively new label supporting local art and music. The CD covers are an interesting design – they are a sheet of white A4 paper carefully folded to provide a snug home for the CD. Also inserted with the CD is a letter from Tristan which provides background information about the story that is about to unfold.

So, to the music.

The first EP is called ‘#42’, which kicks off “Lonesome Spring evenings (thinking of you)”, a Tom Waits-ish monologue over guitar and background noises. Then comes “Make Room”, a bluesy/grungy acoustic tune with a faintly receding electric guitar and decadent background drum beat. Somewhat Dylan-ish, it ends in a rather angry piece of pent-up energy.

A Slow, cavernous Reverb-soaked dirge called “The Well is Dry” ensues, then ”Stumbling Alone” varies the pace somewhat with the introduction of Mandolin and drums played with gentle brushes. The EP’s finale is the droning acoustic “Blues in D#42”, complete with delta harmonica solo.

‘Tamworth City Streets’ is the second EP. It’s a more straight forward collection country blues appropriate for aTamworthtrip. The title track is an acoustic country monologue about the trip fromBrisbaneto the Tamworth Country Music Festival. We are then introduced to “Old Bill”, a timeless inhabitant of the town streets, before marching uptown to the beat of the acoustic blues tune “Blues in E#54”. Johnny Cash might have rode into town to introduce this one.

Possibly the most up-beat of the 10 songs is “Self Portrait”. It’s an acoustic tale of suffering for your art. No doubt autobiographical. The EP ends with “Tested Twice in Tenterfield” – an acoustic blues song with a harp solo, it has the heavy influence of the Rundle Mall busker.

Tristan Newsome seems to be on a journey to discover his musical soul; “Self Preservation Society” is the next restless step on his path to enlightenment. This collection is different to what he has done before; it is probably going to be different to what he does next. Tristan is blessed with a smooth voice, the ability to write interesting observational lyrics, and a firm grasp of how to structure a song. Armed with these skills it will be interesting to see where it takes him. For now, his EPs are an interesting creative experiment that warrants further listening and exploration.


CD Review – Courtney Robb 2010 CD “Amid the Noise + the Haste…”

Genre: Courtney and Western

I’ll cut straight to point here. Courtney Robb carries two instruments; a melodious Maton guitar and a marvellously mellifluous voice. I believe they may be inseparable, conspiring to caress the walls of bars, clubs and country barflies across this land. Courtney has travelled broadly and done just that; I can hear it in her lyric.

Courtney is a singer-songwriter, and in one sense this is the easiest thing for a guitarist to be. They all embark upon the same journey – sitting in the bedroom, musing lyrically about the world they know. Many stay in their rooms, a few more impose their mediocrity on the world, and a smaller number appeal to a wider audience through their talent and sheer perseverance. Courtney Robb is one of the few emerging from the chrysalis that deserves to be heard.

My wife Sam found me listening to this CD. It’s rare for Sam and me to like the same music, but this CD was an exception, so we got to talking about it. Sam says it’s the kind of music two girls might listen to when they are having a heart-to-heart over a coffee (or a wine).

The songs sound like they were all written on the acoustic guitar, maybe in a big old comfy chair, maybe in a dusty truck-stop. Robert Johnson did it and his simple genius spawned generations of imitators. In the right hands the acoustic guitar can be magical. Like Johnson, Courtney has relied on herself, but she also knows when to call on friends; friends who can help her mould and develop her music. Even so, only 8 of the 14 songs are what I would call “band songs” – featuring a drummer and the sound a band might generate. The rest is pure Courtney, Maton, and some instrumental condiments to add flavour. This works for Courtney. It works for Sam. It works for me.

An Acoustic Chanteuse will inevitably produce her fair share of sad stories. The music industry is still a man’s world. Courtney sings of relationships, friends, lovers and disappointment. Weeks of introspection – thinking about what went wrong and why – can drive musical creativity. Courtney has dipped into her well of sorrow and loss to create some beautiful songs.

Opening with the country blues tune “Time” we are slowly dragging ourselves along a dusty road with a mandolin taunting our loss of youth. The slightly more upbeat progression of “Games” questions morality, asking us to put our choices in perspective. The first of the acoustic songs “Jaded” follows, also trying to put our existence into perspective, and in “Lies” Courtney despairs and cries that she’s not going to succumb to the lies and deceit that she despises.

With its pellucid chorus the lighter travelling song “Company” is probably the most commercial of songs in this collection.

Sung to a boy “A Step Back” has the girl taking control of the relationship when he has let her down. Perhaps this was written at the same time as “Playtime’s Over” – a more upbeat song aimed at an arrogant country boy who thinks all the girls want him. Courtney has met these boys a 100 times in a100 different towns; she knows how to handle them. The friend in “Reflections” is also a disappointment

The gentle acceptance of “Letting Go” reaches an emotional crescendo when Courtney is joined in by Simon Peter Hopkins in a vocal duet. This is a truly moving point in this collection of songs – I can’t even say why. Perhaps it is because I have followed Courtney into the depths of her introspection and now I rejoice that she has found a partner in harmony. My favourite song.

“Lazy Afternoons” is a musical stream of consciousness. What do I do when he’s left me? How do I survive? I miss him, but I need to get on with life and make him proud, even though he doesn’t care for me anymore.

“Good Intentions” and “Major Chords” continue the acoustic theme before rounding out the album with the chord progression of “More Like You” and the mellow “Waiting for You”. A suitable finale for the album – waiting for her lover to come home. Time to go to bed, disappointed.

This is a very personal album with Courtney’s emotional experiences laid bare. It is moving, emotive, at times sad, yet musically enjoyable. Like all good albums, this will be plucked from the collection to be heard again when the appropriate life events occur. Good music attaches itself to emotions, and “Amid the Noise + the Haste…” has achieved that.