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Review by Ann Bermingham
Noel Gardner's been singing his songs around southeast Queensland and beyond for quite a few years. I first remember hearing him in the late 1980s, and being inspired and delighted by his issues-based songs.
Since then, Noel has continued to write and perform and has made 2 'solo' CDs - Justice and Pride around 1997 and the EP Fraser in 2000.
There have been rumours for a few years about the next CD, and at last here it is. Aptly titled Walking This Land, it takes us on a journey through geographical, personal, and political landscapes in contemporary Australia in songs that are characterized by thoughtful and evocative lyrics, and singable melodies and choruses.
Central to Noel's music is how he writes about land. Like a painter he draws lines on a page, but the lines are words, and the colours and textures are the melodies, rhythms and musical arrangements of the songs. He takes us to familiar places, e.g. Stradbroke Island in the opening track Bare Dunes, and Fraser in Sunset Symphony a welcome reprise from the 2000 recording. In Walking This Land and In The Forest on the other hand, we experience very clearly the Noel's skill in writing from his own experience in a way that invites us into our own.
Then, before we get too comfortable there, he brings us face to face with the challenge of walking in the history and footsteps of this land and the traditional owners, as the basis for making our own connections.
Whispering Wind, for instance, begins with images of moonlight on granite boulders, then moves into the chorus - "Rivers of blood cross the lowlands". The rhythm here is also wonderfully disconcerting, especially given that the song is about seeking balance and equilibrium!
It's a short distance from this sort of territory to Stolen Children, Refugee, and Reflections of War, with their references to contemporary and timeless concerns.
Noel's songs have received wider recognition recently with Stolen Children having won this year's Australian Songwriters Association award for best lyrics and Reflections of War making it into the top 20. Last year Refugee was placed second in the Acoustic category.
And hot off the presses is the news is that Happy Song has just got through to the top 5 shortlist in the 2005 MusicOz Awards Folk Category, with the winner to be announced in early December (Won last year, incidentally, by the wonderful Blackwood from Victoria).
Happy Song continues in political territory, but with the ironic humour that is always part of Noel's live performances. Not quite so successful in this regard is One Equals Three which isn't strong enough lyrically to convince with its story, and for me, sits somewhat uneasily with the rest of the songs.
I always think of Noel's songs as being built around his singing and guitar playing and that he holds his own comfortably as a soloist. When I've seen him perform in the last few years, he's generally been accompanied by Jennie Finnigan and Alex Bridge doing great backing vocals that give an extra dimension to the songs. But what are recordings for, except to give yourself a chance to do your dream versions of songs? So Noel has invited a great bunch of singers and instrumentalists to join him on the CD, enough to create a choir and orchestra if they were all performing together - which they don't - and to blow out the length of this review if I named them all.
The success of the arrangements is that all these musicians make their unique contributions to the songs without overpowering Noel's voice and words. Instrumentally I especially enjoyed David Goldsworthy on uillean pipes for Sunset Symphony, Dave Burrows on dobro for Whispering Winds, and Linsey Pollak on clarinet for Refugee.
Jennie and Alex do a consistently sensitive and polished job on the backing harmonies. The guest appearances of the other members of Maleny's famous Work in Progress is an added bonus, while Tommy Leonard and Lonnie Martin are just right for Humpback Whale, along with marine guest vocalist.
Amidst all this collaboration, Noel's singing alone with piano as the main backing for Child's World sits very well. Along with Photos and Memories it was written for his sons. I'm sure that both songs will resonate with parents and any of us who are privileged to have children play an important part in our lives. Peter Gardner was in fact the sound engineer and co-producer for the CD, and he and his brothers all perform on it as well.
On a couple of occasions there were songs where I felt that the words could have been edited to sit more comfortably in the structure of the melody, notably In The Forest and Whispering Winds. However, this didn't stop me from liking the songs.
The same can be said of the cover and booklet design which has some great photos, an original drawing, several versions of Noels guitar case, a quote from Margaret Mead, and a couple of background images that overpower the written words. Could just be an opportunity to listen harder.
This CD is a great marker of Noel's musical journey, a timely reflection on the current social and political climate, and a warm addition to a music collection.
For information on how to get hold of it, you can go to Noels website www.noelgardner.com.
Review by Steve Burgess
I have followed Sean's music with interest for quite a few years, and I think that this latest CD from him represents an important move in the live performance of traditional Irish dance music. It sits solidly within the confines of the absolutely rigid tradition of tempo, rhythm, melodic line, structure and numbers of bars demanded by the world of competitive Irish dance. It is music designed to be played absolutely live with a few musicians in close rhythmical connection with the dancers that they are accompanying - absolutely ultra-traditional in all these respects. However, it shifts the early 20th century musette accordion and piano sound normally associated with this type of music 60 years towards the present with the melodic and rhythmic content of the tunes themselves, and the rhythmic and harmonic complexities of the keyboard accompaniment.
This would be an unusual type of CD for most listeners. Its primary purpose is for dancers to practice to when they don't have access to live musicians. For a start, the tunes are arranged in order of which type of dance they were written for. I say written, because every tune on the CD bar 5 traditional set dances was composed specifically for this purpose. I counted 41 original tunes in all. The tunes push the boundaries of what a traditional melody is. Great! This is how new things happen. The accompaniments push the boundaries of what a keyboard accompaniment of a traditional melody should sound like. Great! I hope some of these ideas stick in the way that other people play and accompany tunes.
Although still relatively young, Sean has a unique background that gives him considerable authority in experimenting with the boundaries of this type of music. A world class competitive dancer himself, he was a long time member of Riverdance, as a dancer, trainer and musician (keyboard). For at least the last five years he has been in demand all over the world as a solo accordion player playing for feis (dancing competitions) as well as working with contemporary folk bands. When you add the contemporary musical influences of being a teenager in Queensland in the 90's and playing and writing pop music in the UK in recent years you start to get an insight into Sean's music.
I haven't danced to the sets on this CD, but I'm sure that they would all work well for their intended purpose. In fact, I think that some of these tunes don't sound complete without the sound of hard shoes dancing to them. When I listen to the accordion I hear more Bill Whelan and Sharon Shannon than Jimmy Shand. When I listen to the accompaniment I hear more Michael O'Suileabhain, Elton John and Stevie Wonder than ceilidh band piano. My favourite tune at the moment is The broken jig, mainly because the piano accompaniment reminds me of Philip Aaberg and Michael O'Suileabhain, two of my favourite pianists.
The CD is available from Celtic Productions at www.musosean.com
Review by Anne Infante
I've just had the pleasure of hearing Rachael Gadd's delightful debut CD, Follow me to London. A joint recipient of the 2004 Stan Arthur Memorial Award, Rachael originally hoped to fund a small sample CD to take with her to London on her upcoming launch onto the international folk scene. Winning the award inspired her to record a full CD - and she has produced a really worthwhile recording.
Follow me to London is a beautiful mix of styles and moods, showcasing Rachael's versatility and songwriting talent. It has a lovely, clear, crisp feel - a minimalist and pure sound born of the combination of Rachael's lovely musical voice, the deceptively simple guitar sounds of Rachael and Rory Sinclair and the soaring, dancing violins of Matisse Schubert and Colin Macleod.
Rachael's melodies twist, turn and dance through 11 original songs, perfectly partnering lyrics, which are in turn thought-provoking, wistful, powerful and spine-tingling. Follow me to London sings of inevitable endings; Solitude yearns for quality time alone. The clothesline uses the metaphor of swinging around on a clothesline to describe the pleasure of 'getting your feet off the ground'. For the one she loved cries the pain of a tangled relationship. Some things weren't meant to fade reflects on what might have been. Another one and Tom's bride set remind us that Rachael is also a talented flautist and these two original tunes feature her on this lovely instrument. Old Tom is the tale of a fiddler's sad demise; This time reminds us that time moves uncontrollably on. My baby and the devil eerily mourns love lost. If I should die asks for remembrance beyond death.
Rachael has deservedly acquired many fans in the past three years of performing around Victoria and Brisbane. They will be sad to lose her to the rest of the world, but delighted at the gift she leaves behind.
Follow me to London is available from Rachael:
Review by June Nichols
At the September ABOFOTS, Paul Lawler the MC had his new CD on sale. The album's entitled A Taste of Good Music by Paul Lawler and the Just Desserts who are Richenda Bridge, Jenny Fitzgibbon and Carmel Givens.
The CD begins with a calypso called Corrie's Coconut and Cabbage Soup. Paul and crew actually sound like they are from the West Indies and I should know as I originate from very close to there myself, the Bahamas; not really in the West Indies but close enough for the musical sounds. As you listen to the words you find that they are talking about the Upfront Club and a recipe. Each track that follows is a recipe set to music, quite an original idea.
Yes... I know, some of you are going to say, "but Rian Anderson published a singing cookbook a few years back." Yes, a similar idea but Paul has taken the idea quite a bit further.
Paul said "Many years ago my wife cooked a meal which I found so delectable that, being a singer/songwriter, I felt the dish was worth writing and singing about. I decided to create a song format which presented the ingredients and method of cooking such that a person could purchase all the requirements and then prepare a meal - just by having these catchy, and oft times humorous songs, in their head!! So I began to collect favourite recipes from my friends and set them to music, marrying each recipe with a musical style that best fitted the feeling and flavour of the food."
Backing musicians are Andrew Higgins who produced and engineered the album as well as playing keyboards, electric guitar and drums. Jan Van Dijk plays fiddle, while Mark Higgins plays a bit of electric guitar.
There are recipes for Rayner's Scallops, Sandy's Patent Leather Pie, Fillets of Sole St Germain, Pork Fillets in Apple and Guinness Sauce, M.P.'s Vegie Slice, Val's Cherries Jubilee, Throw it on the Barbie, Phil & Kylie's Sticky Date Pudding, And last but not least Chendie's Meatloaf Blues.
This CD will make a great Christmas Pressie. Cost? About $25 mark and you can buy as many as you like by going to the website or call Paul on 07 5499 9190.
Buy one for yourself even!
review by John Hockings
Mark Cryle wrote most of the Spot The Dog's magical songs and over the years has carved out a well-deserved reputation as one of Australia's best songwriters. Those who knew the band would already know his fine singing and would have delighted in his distinctive mandolin playing.
His first solo EP CD, Notches on the Wall, is a collection of recently-penned material which puts Mark up front and solo as a singer-songwriter, and allows us to focus on these talents. His songs, which always possess that great quality of universalising an intimate experience, are perfect for solo performance, and give Mark the chance to speak directly to us.
The six songs on the CD all have the strong warm melody and poetic lyric that we have come to expect in Mark's songs. As always, his songs are unmistakably bedded in the Australian urban way of life and speak easily of places, events and cultural ticks which we all recognise. How magic it is to hear this done in a way which is neither self-conscious nor chauvinistic. Add that to a real songwriter's ear for a great melody and a 'nailed-it' lyric and you have a very special debut solo album of beautifully and carefully crafted songs.
We occasionally got to hear Mark sing with Spot the Dog but now he has the chance to let his voice as well as his songwriting talents shine, and he does this brilliantly on the album. Mark is backed on the EP by old partners in crime, Cathy Bell, Richard Evans, and Michael Tully, now known collectively as The Redeemers.
by Maree Robertson
I suppose you'd have to call this more of a testimony than a review. I can't pretend to be objective - I have the dubious honour of having laughed, cried and danced to Jigzag simultaneously. But it is unsolicited, unremunerated, and not even for Jigzag would I lie. Indeed, you could say that because of Jigzag I wouldn't.
Their music has been a consistent source of inspiration and life guidance for me ever since first I had the joyful experience of meeting Liz Frencham at Woodford Folk Festival in 1997/98, and shortly thereafter became Jigzag's #2 fan (#1 honour goes to Jane Faulkner I believe). That was of course before they were Jigzag - when they were playing Celtic tunes and pop covers in a pub at Manly every Sunday afternoon. Even then they were inspiringly optimistic and energetic and great value live entertainment.
So, this album has been long time coming, and for those of us who have loved Jigzag's music for many years, this compilation of their favourite live recordings could easily be a soundtrack to an authentic life. For that is what they offer - with no shame or embarrassment for not being 'cool' (although of course they are in their own perky way).
They write songs that tackle issues that most pop artists wouldn't touch with a barge pole - with Liz's darkly powerful Stronger The Tree; Greg's no-holds-barred gentility in Take It Like a Man; and the intricacy of Caroline's auspicious first song writing offering Feel Like a Child - all illuminating life experiences that many of us have struggled with.
And of course it wouldn't be a Jigzag album if it wasn't also filled to the brim with joyous, light-hearted celebrations of life - Liz's bluesy, smooth as silk Man of Wood and the cheeky romp of Little Things are testaments to Jigzag's ever present dedication to making love, not war.
And then there are the tune sets, which more than anything highlight the sheer extraordinary musicianship of these three individuals - old favourites like Miserlou rejigged, along with new explorations of their musical capacities like The Chainsaw Wedding Arrangement (you had to be there J ).
For someone like me who has been a long-time fan - what strikes me most about this album is how awesomely tight these three friends are. Instrumentally and vocally, it is clearly evident how much music they have made together over the past 9 years.
And more than this, there is a clear reflection - an almost palpable sense - in this album of the warmth, camaraderie and generosity of spirit that characterises their playing together.
Jigzag are touring less these days - with Liz spreading her solo wings with her exquisite first recording Jericho (yes folks, there's finally a chance to get a recorded version of this most beautiful song), (and moving to Melbourne and soon touring overseas with her sister Karen Lynne) - but don't be mistaken, Jigzag is still a vibrant, shining entity. Greg, Caroline and Liz are just honouring the maxim that 'making a living is best undertaken as part of the more important business of making a life'.
We hope to see them back in top gear later this year, and they'll always get together whenever they can (see www.jigzag.com). If you know how much joy Jigzag offer us in their music, and miss seeing them play more often, buying this album is a great way to keep musical company with them in the meantime.
by Malcolm Fielding - indie-cds.com
Shemozzle's latest release Missusisyphus is the band's third CD and their most accomplished and satisfying production to date. Shemozzle have their own unique brand of "psycho-gypsy-cabaret" - I think I'd call this magical surrealism. Drawing on Latin jazz and central European influences, this CD is, except for two tracks of gypsy/klezmer, all their own original material.
The leading light of the band and the person most responsible for its general style(s) and direction, guitarist/singer Michael Shrapnel, wrote a number of the songs on this new CD. Significant contributions in the writing department also come from the bass player Russell Dobie, and accordionist/vocalist Astrid Notarangelo. Russell Dobie and percussionist Sean Brady provide a tight and responsive underpinning to this music which has many variations in pace and mood.
Bonita is a lovely gently paced song sung in Spanish with a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment, one of three tracks on the CD sung in Spanish. Abras Sus Manos is a full bore Shemozzle production, without a Spanish translation I'd only be guessing as to what it's about, and I have been warned that it's better not to try and translate (!) but it sounds great. Der Badkhen Freylakh is a traditional tune in central European gypsy/klezmer style, with the viola and violin pairing of Suzie Gosling and Duncan Marshall cutting loose after a floating intro from Astrid Notarangelo's accordion.
Also in this general style is the final track, another traditional piece, Sultan's Throne. One of Notarangelo's compositions, Ich Bin Ein Dummkopf is a bleak Brecht/Weill cabaret-style tale of the discovery that one's beloved is using one, ah, the age-old story. Her abilities as a satirical vocalist come to the fore here, as she sings in faux-Germanic English. Additional background madness, vocal and otherwise, is contributed by the rest of the band. There's no real shortage of that on the whole CD.
The band have an ability to address universal themes in their songs in an original and effortless way. Perhaps the tracks that are most characteristic of the band in this mood are the strangely haunting magically surrealist creations such as Dance of Life or Around and Around and Around - this is a rich song of life and its mysteries and absurdities. Highly evocative images sung in waltz time accompany this journey into ... ? Do any of us know? A classic.
Find the band at www.shemozzle.com.au
Obvious influences: Silly Wizard, The Shoogs, Martyn Bennett, Moving Hearts, Runrig, and dare I say it, The Pogues, with some of their 'punk' motifs getting a guernsey. Yet there is a newness that emerges. Smoky Finish are a five piece celtic folk-rock group from Austria, (surprise!), and feature: Paul Dangl (fiddle, guitar, mandolin, vox), Esch (bouzouki, guitar, mandolin, vox), Klara Schiffermüller (fiddle, e-cello, vox), Bernhart Ruso (flute, whistles, bodhrán, darabouka, cajón), Andy Neumeister (guitar, bass, vox).
All play superbly, and with a conviction that you don't normally associate with bods who aren't the first born of the 'royal' lineage from the celtic/folk/rock tradition. This from their web site:
"Five musicians, five types of music. Celtic folk from Ireland, Scotland and UK, rich and golden like single malt whisky. Irish power folk and Scottish battle songs, singing of anger, blood and victory. Longing love songs. enriched by blues and rock 'n' roll. Some say it is folk or folk-fusion, some say it is folkrock or fast folk. We call it rock and reel. Traditional but very up to date. We use fiddles, bouzouki, guitar, bass, flute and bodhrán. We enjoy playing music in Irish pubs, like "Fiddler's Green" and "Paddy's", at folk festivals, Irish Nights, for weddings and all kinds of parties. At home in Austria , on tour through Germany and the rest of Europe . Soon in the States, Australia and Asia . Let there be folkrock! Rock 'n' Reel rules"
Andy Neumeister describes himself, of among other things, a 'blatherskite'. There is nothing the least bit blatherskite-ish about Clear this planet Immediately. This particular Smoky Finish CD was released in 2002 and is a feature rich album, with some luscious renderings of many traditional session tunes (i.e. The Lads of Laois/Siobhan O'Donnell's), some classic songs very cleverly re-arranged, and a bar-full-o-fun in evidence throughout. The standout tracks for me include, in order, The Mullah Set, (a funked-up kopenitza set with a crankin' version of 'name that tune' played in 11/16), an ode to Silly Wizard with The Queen of All Argyle, and a groovy Maggie's Pancakes squeezed into The Trooper and The Maid. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the rest of the album, 'cos I bloody did, and you have to admire any band that can screw George Dubya, the Mission Impossible theme, and a toddlers questioning baby talk into the one song/tune set.
Smoky Finish present a thoughtful bunch of tracks, and they are obviously enjoying taking the 'genre' of celtic folk/rock into ever more creative climes. Smoky Finish - put it on - crank it up - enjoy ! CDs available from www.indie-cds.com
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