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Leah Flanagan album review

Leah Flanagan, rapidly maturing as one of Darwin’s foremost artistic exports to the world, has released her second album, Nirvana Nights.

A tribute to the Nirvana bar, Darwin’s musician’s hangout of choice, the song Nirvana Nights, though last track on the album, is by no means the least. It showcases a voice redolent with power, control and artistry. Likewise, the voice of the first track, Goodbye, is that of a soul old beyond Flanagan’s years – knowing but not jaded, a big, endowed voice that weaves nuance through every phrase.

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Leah Flanagan bio

Hailing from Darwin might be perceived as a disadvantage, given it’s as far from Melbourne as you can be while still in the country.

But Leah Flanagan has turned it into a distinct advantage.

Flanagan sings sweetly but wields a mean ukelele – as Darwin locals will attest, she’s been playing original songs to hot-blooded acclaim since she could swing a tune, and is the darling of the tropical north.

The release of her second album, Nirvana Nights, is not a tribute to that grunge band’s nocturnal habits, but to a small, defiantly seedy bar in Darwin where everybody plays. This testament to Flanagan’s home-town sums up the tone of the album.

Which is not to say it’s small-time – this is a beautifully recorded document of Northern soul, with full-blooded melodies and Flanagan’s voice – at times channelling Shirley Bassey, at others Lucinda Williams, dominating a succulent procession of profound musicianship from some of Melbourne’s finest players – Liz Stringer, Grant Cummerford, Matt Earl, Netanela Mizrahi, Mel Robinson, Emily Lubitz and Harry Angus.

Yes, she recorded it in Melbourne, where she travels frequently to play – when she’s not in Vancouver with the Black Arm Band, Berlin at the Popkomm Festival, Woodford Folk Festival, Adelaide Fringe or wherever else in the world she’s in demand.

The album, produced by Steven Schram (The Cat Empire/Little Birdy/Custom Kings) is a robust interpretation of her onstage persona – vividly human, quiet but possessed of a formidable strength and artistry. Bristling with gorgeous melodies and the kind of wry swing you might suspect of Tom Waits or Jolie Holland, there’s also the off-kilter catch of Martha Wainwright’s emotional torrent in Flanagan’s maturing, but already well-gravelled delivery.

But her home and family are foremost authorities – her grandmother’s acute effect on Flanagan’s world is registered in both Goodbye and Alyawarre Girl, whereas Nirvana Nights, the song, stories Darwin’s small but zealously hedonistic community.

This Alyawarre girl is taking her music beyond Darwin’s embrace to a wider world. Leah Flanagan’s second album announces a woman awake.

Three album reviews for Plateau Magazine – Alstonville

Big Low – The Junction of The Two Rivers Big Low is the vehicle of Dan Tuffy, one time member of 80’s rock outfit Wild Pumpkins At Midnight, who had an eclectic career in Australia before exporting themselves to Europe for a sustained, if addled campaign of touring. The rest of the band returned home, worn out, and Michael Turner, of Nimbin’s own Durga Babies, is a North Coast resident. Tuffy stayed in the Netherlands, however and concentrated on an eccentric country/folk strain of music. His work in Big Low with Dutchmen Michiel Hollanders and Marc Constandse features a variety of odd, archaic instruments including the Velofoon, banjo bass, bendir and bandoneon (google ‘em). The songs on this album are then, of an odd, almost whimsical folksiness (I saw them at the Yackandandah Folk festival earlier this year). Tuffy’s unabashed Australian accent sits oddly with the lilting, very European musicality of his compadres and creates a stirring vision of an older era that’s almost magic realist – a cover of country great Merle Travis’ Dark as a Dungeon, and the convict dirge My Name is Jimmy Governor set the tone. Available only through online order, you can access this through Smoked Recordings.

The Tendons – Snatches of alt-rock from three decades glisten in this restless animal, throwing off echoes of Masters Apprentices, The Church, Died Pretty and the bipolar frenetics of Eagles of Death Metal. An audacious and enterprising debut from a promising Lismore band, Cult Leader imagines the trajectory of a Messianic individual, based on the antics of an interesting existing individual, pictured on the cover. The Tendon’s are the brainchild of local boy Glenn Deaf, frontman and songwriter, whose rambunctious guitar work enshrines this unusual rock and roll adventure. Standouts are Snow 2480 and King Brown. Produced locally at Music House Studios, you can get this through Flood Records, an estimable independent Lismore record label.

The Dennis Boys – No Story to Tell The Dennis Boys are a product of the highly fecund Hunter Valley, famous for coal, stud horses and great bands. A country rock outfit consisting of four siblings and a family friend, their influences are profoundly rooted in the greats – Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Johnny Cash and Dwight Yoakam, but there’s just as much Nick Cave, White Stripes and Lucinda Williams in their roughneck ballads. Brothers Shane, Lyle and Erle provide the brawn, whilst sister Leah is the beauty, and between them they bristle with authentic guitar twang and bravado. They are the real country deal – truckdrivers, horse farriers – Erle an award-winning harmonica player and Leah a jeweller. Lyle does most of the singing, and his authentic vocal growl easily carries opener The Right Kind, while Leah’s Falling For Me provides some of that Patsy Cline sass. Shane’s Hurts Too Much hits a poignant note – this a truly tender and beautiful song from the clan elder and contrasts deftly with the raunch and swagger of the albums general tone. Just released through Newcastle’s Rack Off Records, this album’s getting a lot of attention.

The Re-Mains press release and bio for Inland Sea album launch

The Re-mains fourth album, Inland Sea, might have taken them three years to get out, but it hasn’t been for want of action. Since Love’s Last Stand, their 2006 live album   earned four stars from Rolling Stone, they’ve had a near fatal mash-up with a cow in the Northern Territory, two massive Canadian tours and enough line-up changes to put the Melbourne Hit Men Association to shame.

“We started recording early in 2007, then went on tour to the Territory and had the ‘meat tray’ incident,” says frontman/manager Mick Daley.

“Grunter Bedford and Ramshackle Dave Ramsey were horribly maimed and out of action after that. It took a while to get back into gear. Me and Tom Jones Jnr (bassplayer) were kind of freewheelin’ around with different line-ups, including Louis Tillet on piano one New Years Eve in Maitland, till Shaun (Uncle Burnin’ Love) Butcher came back from winning his bout with cancer, and took up the banjo again.”

Revitalised, the band did some more recording, at Christian Pyle’s Lot 61 Studios in Goonengerry, in the Byron Bay hinterland. Then they hightailed it to Canada in ‘08, for en epic four-month tour involving an $800 Chevy van, 16,000 kilometres, nationally broadcast breakfast TV and 65 shows from Vancouver to Toronto and back again. The rest of that year was spent back on the road in Australia, then in 2009 they did it all again, clocking up another 18,000 k’s and adding a circumnavigation of the Rockies with Canadian outlaw folkie Dr Joey Only to their carbon footprint.

Back in Australia, they finished the album, at last, and set about getting it out themselves, following the demise of their label, Croxton Records. They were rescued by Austrade, which awarded them an export development grant, in the nick of time to salvage their debts – and pay Christian Pyle.

Daley has high praise for Pyle, who had his own winning bout with the big C whilst engineering and playing on the album, twice.

“CP is a genius. He takes my rambling ballads and crafts them into … well, something else, something a lot more considered and refined. He also plays a mean guitar, invents most of his gear from scratch and laughs at conventional wisdom, about scales, recording, everything really.”

“We had a Canadian version of this album first. Then when we came back, I asked him to do it all over again, ‘cos I wanted different songs on the Australian version. It’s lucky we’re mates, I’ve seen him, er, react differently to similar requests.”

It’s more produced than previous albums, which were basically tracked live, to get the bands edgy attack authentically.

“This one has the same energy, but more overdubbing and fairy dust. It’s a big sound, a dash of 3D.

“It’s got road songs from Canada and more laments about lost love and loneliness, as well as my favourite, an epic about Pumulwuy, the great Koori warrior, and Who Shot Johnny D? a murder ballad from Nimbin.”

This winter the band is taking Inland Sea on the road south and west, way west.

Well Melbourne and Sydney and Darwin of course,” Daley says. “Then we’re headed out to Bourke, via Brewarrina, Cobar, Coonamble, back where it all started.”

The Re-Mains were renowned as the hardest driving independent band in the country when they first started their country rock and roll crusade in 2002. They boasted that they’d played more rodeos, outback dives and inner city hellholes than any other band in Australia. Splendour in the Grass, Six Tamworth Country Music Festivals, five East Coast Blues and Roots, three Darwin Festivals, Woodford Folk, Nymagee Outback fest, Nimbin Mardi Grass, (see sizzle sheet) and every other bush bash they could reach. Four albums, two EPs and more drummers than Spinal Tap. Banjos, pedal steel and balls to the wall country rock and roll.

They travelled where most East Coast outfits feared to tread, to the wildest outback pubs, where it was not uncommon to see heads go through plate glass windows while they played.

“There’s nothing like the sound of a banjo at full throttle to get some of those country blokes revved for a blue. And even the 3am emos at the Pony in Melbourne warm to it after a few songs.”

Their Canadian tours included shows at NXNE, NewMusic West, the Calgary Stampede and nine other national festivals, their compilation album reached Number 13 on the Alberta CBC radio charts and they appeared twice on breakfast TV. But they reserve their highest praise for Curtis, their Chevy conversion van.

‘$800 in Vancouver, we jumped in, drove him straight over the Rockies. He threw a starter motor in Calgary and lost his exhaust early, so everywhere we went we sounded like a Panzer battalion on the attack. We scared bears all over Canada. But that van kept going, two tours in Canada and we left him in Vancouver with Dr Joey Only, who killed him in a week.”

With the aid of Austrade they’re returning to Canada next year – meanwhile this year it’s all about the Inland Sea – and avoiding cows.

The Re-Mains are –

Mick Daley – management, songwriting, guitars, harmonica, singing.

Shaun Butcher – songwriting, banjo, electric guitars, singing.

Tom Jones – bass

Al Fisk – drums, singing.

And occasionally, Christian Pyle – electric guitars.

The Re-Mains at Australian festivals;

Splendour in the Grass (‘03), East Coast Blues and Roots, (x5) Tamworth Country Music Festival (x7), Woodford Folk Festival (‘04), Darwin Festival (x3), St Kilda Festival (‘04), Big Note Festival, Swan Hill (x2), Mullumbimby Festival (‘02) The Herb Festival, Lismore (x2), Brisbane Beer Festival (‘04), Barkly Arts Festival, NT (’05), Surfing the Coldstream, Yamba (x2), Casino Beef Week (x3), Two Rivers Festival, Gunnedah (‘05), Mt Isa Rodeo (‘04), Litchfield Rodeo (‘06), Gold Coast Rodeo (‘07), The Puppet Rodeo, Kyogle (‘06), Gove Peninsula Festival NT, (‘06),  Wagga Wagga Unsound Festival (‘05), The Gumball, Hunter Valley (x2), Candelo Festival (‘07), Wallaby Creek Festival, FNQ (’05), Yagubi Festival, Hervey Bay (‘05), The Mad Hatter Regatta, Albury (‘05), Blues and Tattoos Bike Show, Maitland (‘06), Kingaroy Peanut Festival (‘06), Long Flat Bike Rally (‘05) Big Sunday, Tyalgum (‘07), Mazstock, Lismore (’07) Yackandandah Folk Festival (‘10), Cool Summer Festival, Mt Hotham (‘10).

The Re-Mains at Canadian Festivals;

North by North East, Toronto (‘08), New Music West, Vancouver (‘08), Big Valley Jamboree, Alberta (‘08), Ness Creek Festival, Saskatchewan (‘08, ‘09), North Country Fair, Alberta (‘08), Gateway Festival, Sask (‘08), Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival, BC (‘08), Winlaw Music Festival, BC (‘09), Kitchener Blues Festival, Ontario (‘09),  Sled Island, Alberta (‘09).

Recipients of two Australia Council touring grants and an

Austrade Export Development Grant – current for seven years.

Review of Ghost Mountain’s 2010 album Art Without Audience

Being a musician is about considerably more than playing an instrument. It’s about a life moved by artistic vision and emotion – a fraught word in the modern era. Like that other, highly nuanced casualty of the lexicon, ‘gay’, it’s been forced into an entirely other set of pants. Emotion in its truncated, graffitoed form has been circumscribed to those youth who feel that shanghiing the Goth credo is not enough, that as sole inheritors of genuine sorrow the emos need to annex it for their own private kingdom. But Ghost Mountain ain’t letting go of it.

This band’s lives are a subterranean mine of emotion, roiling and tectonically shifting beneath the amaranthine hills of the Byron hinterland. And where it breaks the surface, that’s where you’ll find Art Without Audience.

Engineered, produced and finessed in his usual inimitable style by co-founding member Christian Pyle (CP), this record is then broken down by Sal Yates, the other half of the equation. Sal’s voice, enormous, vulnerable, glorying in power and range, is as laden with the E word as was Johnny Cash’s in another realm entirely, so tightly woven with tantalising promise, searing passion and aching despair that every phrase sounds like a psalm from the Old Testament.

Arm that voice with CP’s masterful, deft and unrestrained knowledge of an electric guitars possibilities, and you indeed have high art, albeit aloof and oblique, grounded in high misty hills and constant, tropical rain. It’s my contention in fact that the mountain is question is music itself, and the ghost is the ephemeral, shifting emotion that haunts it.

Drummer Nick Edin and bassist Eben McCrimmon are adept interpreters of the raging and temperamental songs on this, the second album from the band. Two years in the making, it’s a potent mix of their signal slant on rock and roll with a determined and steady artistic vision. Envenomed at turns with Bryson Mulholland’s coruscating keys and CP’s own bristling voice, the result is a glittering treasury of blazing ardour and wilful collapse.

From the stately timbre of Government Arms to the Crazy Horse guitar tirade of I’m Gonna Face You, there’s a ruthless spectrum of styles lurching through the eleven songs. Delving into electro-pop with Everythings OK, the Mountaineers also tackle brooding alt-rock in Started a Fire, while Capsized Moon is as lilting and yearnful as Don’t Make Me Wait is majestic.

Easy Does It is a standout, not because I have an undeserved credit, but because of its simple melody and poised, sanguine lyric. The lover who sings ‘You swine, I’m coming to get you’, is the same who on Animal declares, “I’m not your animal, you’re not worth dying for”, and hexes exes when In Spite of Me shudders in full spate with “I’m getting over the game … taking time to write the lies that you breathe …”. She’s also the temptress who promises “If you really wanted this could be your song”, in Capsized Moon.

Like Ghost Mountain’s previous work, this album is more about subtle and dark than user-friendly. There’s few concessions to idiocy and the banal will slope away, unmoved. But if you like to tap into raw emotion and the elliptical truth of unfettered art, you’ll find closer The Whole compelling and its hot-tempered jealousy a door slamming on a volatile, irresistible album. Like a spurned lover, you’ll be hanging at the back windows, peering into that murky light.

Dennis Boys bio – they used most of it

The Dennis Boys have a sister up front. Not that you wouldn’t notice either. But while her big, likeable brothers roll out their hard-hitting country rock, Leah Dennis has a high, lonesome country contralto to match.

She’s not the youngest of the clan but certainly the best looking.

Eight generations in the Hunter Family, the Dennis family are all full-time ringers, drivers or in Leah’s case, jewelers. But their music is a genetic force and when they’re on stage, brothers Lyle, Erle and Shane own that venue.

The result owes as much to (insert name of favourite rock band) as it does to Hank Williams and Elvis, its unmistakeable country twang tempered by vicious guitars and a rollicking beat that’s flipped wigs in city venues as righteously as in the Muswellbrook Pub.

They’ve worked up a set of original songs that burn their own brand on the genre.

“It’s ball-tearing country rock and roll, as savage as anything we can pull out,” says Mick Daley, of the Re-Mains, who’ve played with the Boys in Sydney and Tamworth.

With family friend Dave Bourke on drums, the current line-up, Erle on bass, Lyle and Shane on guitars and vocals, Leah on fire, has been playing for nearly two years.

Erle’s won a Golden Harp at Tamworth Country Music Festival and the band, in various incarnations, have played there for the last 25 years. Shane, being the senior party and the best talker, is the spokesman and plays a mean telecaster, Lyle duplicating the feat on an upside down left-hander.

Experience The Dennis Boys Band this Tamworth Country Music Festival and remember what it’s like to be knocked out cold and enjoy it.

Christian Pyle, solo album review, published on Vitamin website

Christian Pyle is an anomaly in the modern world – eschewing glamour, fads and celebrity he’s pioneered all three in his own inimitable style as founding member of the great ACRE, a Brisbane band that nearly tipped over into the hyperstream – and would surely have if not for CP’s refusal to kowtow to the flippant demands of passing fame.

Instead he chose the life of the reclusive eccentric, buying acreage in the Byron hinterland before it was trendy and carving out a niche as a cranky, obsessive producer – much in demand from the hippest jazz practitioners in the land, among others, and renowned for crafting straightforward, evocative music with the unmistakeable stamp of sonic genius.

As gentleman farmer and bona fide eccentric he specialises in chicken coops on an Escheresque scale – on the sonic plane he contends with obscure, etheric sounds, tinkering with odd devices and inventions. His use of spastic rhythms and counter-melodies, ghostly voices and antiquated instrumentation ranging from toy pianos to homemade theremins is local legend.

Sometimes these quirks threaten to place him in the dadaist realms of John Cale, Sonic Youth or even Kraftwerk, but his love of a simple melody and primal pop structure are always underpinned by the guitar foundations that keep him entrenched in rock’n’roll.

Those familiar with his work – Ghost Mountain, the Re-mains, Jesse Younan, Billy, et al, will recognise the subtle but layered vocals and reverbs, the obsessive, warped melodies, the cunning arrangements that recycle simple progressions and beats into seemingly complex symphonies. In fact some of the songs carry the epic melodic momentum of Muse or Radiohead, a statement he’d probably take issue with.

In ‘Nothing Left to Burn’ he’s crafted a gentle but deceptively savage record that hacks and stabs at several of his private bete noires while maintaining an even lope, like an experienced lantana cutter excising his quarry with efficient, but deadly swipes of the brush-hook.

CP plays all the instruments, displaying virtuoso talents that are almost impossible to repeat live.

‘Trees and Stone’ is the balladry of an artisan and farmer as adept and familiar with natural elements as songs and sound, inviting a visitor to witness the ‘ ….? play with the trees and stone, built my home, on innocent dreams,”  ??’

Never specific, enigmatic lyrics annotate a love affair with his bittersweet life, as much a part of the landscape as the materials he builds chook pens with. The romantic sentiment of the chorus belies his jaded frown; “Someone’s heart I’m sure you’ll take up, someone’s love to sweep your feet,

“If only words could say what they mean, if only ears could hear them sweet …”

‘Wait Son’ is a primer for Nemo, his eldest, who displays all the urgent restlessness of his dad’s relentless creativity – ‘Wait son don’t you understand, our road’s been walked upon since time began,

We’re just a viral coat tryin’ to fill a stranger’s shoulders, we’re just the branches of a family …’

Already playing guitar at age 5, Nemo’s familiar precociousness stirs instinctive paternal caution;

‘ … there is broke, there is broken, there are toys that you can’t play with …’

The grim admonition of ‘Get Used To It’ uses a spare piano melody staked out on a bleak narrative that delves into the murk of a lantana farmer’s consciousness – Goonengerry’s ‘Diary of a Madman’.

Meanwhile subliminal trumpets and voices carry on a submerged dialogue that gives the song an entirely more vulnerable edge in the refrain;

‘I know I sound weak, I know I sound crazy that’s the way it is, get used to it …’

‘Ray of Your Sunshine’ is the perfect pop song, leaping out of an addled drum solo with laconic sauciness, tempered by bitter experience.

“Don’t take much to make me regret, just the thought of you and my heart comes out second best … for far too long I wore an idiot smile, what I’d pay for a ray of your sunshine … “

Meanwhile ‘Sometime in June’ shops all CP’s melancholy themes, the haunting sense of loss and decayed beauty that informs much of his work, a junkie carousel spindling a lost love’s lament.

‘At A Loss’ is another desolate piano ballad whose brevity underpins its mournful musings on the world’s oldest theme;

“Love never fades, it just changes shape, it just changes faces …”, while

Ryuichi is a spare, short instrumental that takes you into the final turn for ‘School Without Dogs’;

A breezy reminiscence of childhood innocence and preoccupations whose central canine underpins the premise that times were better then … Rambling lyrics also grant a glimpse into some of the musical obsessions that drive CP’s muse.

Country music how it ought to be is demonstrated in ‘Sun Comes Up’, a lazy acoustic yearning for the same essence of past potential that haunts its predecessors; “ … You had a fire deep inside, you had a friend in the flame, now you’re suffering from some emptiness within … Wish you were still around … “

You get the feeling that these memos are aimed not at individuals as much as phases of life, of which people are just different facets. The wry observer sees his own fate in them;

‘ … now we’re waterlogged and sinking, the ghost of all before

take your time, take it quickly, push me from the shore … “

‘Give It Some Choke’ is a defiant challenge to the musical powerbrokers of our digital age, a war-cry urging compatriots not to bend before their apparent omniscience.

‘Fuck the powers take control, come on baby give it some choke …

They’ll hear us one day …’ and as if in response, ‘Spaceman’s Funeral’

is a strange techno dirge that could well take its place as an X-Box anthem – or indeed a wry funeral march for these very music moguls.

‘Green Goblin’ is musical haiku, another strange composition whose mysterious undertones seem to be narrating a whole other world underneath a brief melodic meditation.

Finally, ‘Great White Hope’ is a broad and scathing denunciation of a recalcitrant former client which revels in gallows imagery and a gleeful piano and banjo stomp.

“If I only know one thing; puppets don’t like it when you don’t provide the strings …”

Not for committed dance-obsessives or those prone to lyric-triggered depressions, ‘Nothing Left To Burn’ is a wilfully difficult album that demands a certain amount of work from the listener.  It features the kind of dedication to dense and detailed soundscapes as the prog-rock of a bygone age – much as CP would loathe such a comparison.

Lyrically caustic and sonically exquisite, it’s an artistic and oddly elegant exercise that rewards diligent engagement – and then just try and get the songs out of your head.

Marshall and the Fro album launch bio

Marshall and The Fro are a household name these days, on the roots festival circuit and in their home, the North Coast surfing mecca of Lennox Head, NSW. They’re known for their powerful, pulsing roots music, the soundtrack to the summer for many a carefree festival freak.

Their songs feature on cult surf films like David Bradbury’s Going Vertical and in Billabong ads. Having played virtually every big festival in the land, they’ve also had tracks on Australian TV shows like East of Everything and No Way San Jose. And they’ve just completed a new album, ‘title’, that looks set to eclipse these landmarks.

Marshall Okell, driving force and songwriter, recently recruited his newest member, Fergo, on bass. The big, affable redhead has a five-octave range that lifts their dual choruses into deep space. Their drummer, known affectionately as Poodle, is a hugely likeable unstoppable force, who pummels the kit like it’s his little brother and has done so previously for the likes of Pete Murray. Marshall reckons he’d jump in front of a bullet for either of ’em.

This tight-knit outfit have just spent three months hunkered down with producer Anthony Lycenko (ARIA Nominee, Pete Murray, U2, Beautiful Girls, Xavier Rudd) at 301 and Rocking Horse studios in Byron Bay. Together they’ve garnered an enormous, tempered and timely record that reveals an artist and band in permanent progress.

The band’s first, self-titled release was a party record, the sound of young bucks on the hunt. Get Up and The Player were aimed smack bang at the heaving throng in the Far North Coast, the epicentre for grooving grommets and geishas. Yet even on tracks like the much-covered Thongs, a bouncing, full-blooded tribute to the surfer’s footwear of choice, OKell sang like he meant something else, something important.

On ‘title’ he establishes his intent beyond doubt, with a potent collection of songs that defines an artist and band in a blazing trajectory – but still firmly anchored to their roots.

Friends for Life is the breakthrough – a life-affirming festival romp bound to be a massive hit on the circuit. The anthemic chorus, “We came here with an open mind, we leave here, friends for life …” will be on every summer pilgrim’s lips come November.

The chunky descent of We’ve All Got Something To Say owes as much to heavy rock as the Chilli Peppers’ staunch funk attacks – this is the kind of onslaught that fans of the band are itching for.

Bleeding Hearts is a gentle ballad in the mould of Ben Harper. Deft touches of mandolin and bittersweet harmonies underscore a radio-friendly regret for lost innocence.

Back to business as I Don’t Mind features OKell’s trademark blizzard of slide guitar reinforcing the urgent refrain, “You took too much, it ain’t ever comin’ back”, a gentle warning to naysayers of the power of boogie.

In the big drums and gospel chorus of Crocodile Tears there’s a measured lament laden with cracked emotion, and a nod to the righteous accord of the Living End. One of the album’s truly soaring moments.

The funk-on of White Collar Thieves co-opts hip-hop cadences as a call to arms against the depredations of gun-happy goons with monied credentials – there’s no roots music festivals in Iraq, kids.

Meanwhile Tall Poppies is another formidable radio ballad with a tactile melody that winds itself around the tongue. It evokes the classic beauty of superbly handled slide guitar against a declaration of artistic and emotional sovereignty; “Tall Poppies grow just high as they can, why cant I go with your wishful consent, its the tribulations of the grateful dead, where tall poppies grow just as high as they can” – the most pop moment, and a truly definitive one, on the album.

OKell’s voicing is extraordinary – powerful and wild, it chimes with restless, taut guitar and over the neck slide virtuosity which the band meets, blow for blow.

Press reactions for the first disc were effusive, with Sam Fell of Rhythms magazine declaring the album “infectious as hell’ and Brisbane’s Courier Mail embracing “a stunning display of musicianship from the tight-knit trio.”

Three years down the line, Marshall OKell is a different animal to the man who roared, “I’m a player and I share it around, I take a dollar when I’m bringing you down …”

He’s toured hard, playing 200 shows in 2009 alone. Three East Coast Blues and Roots Festivals bookend a whole swag of tours and altered states. The miles have left their marks on him.

“This album draws on different experiences and emotions to the last one,” he admits. “It’s not as happy – there’s heart-break and loss in it. Like everyone I’ve been broken down, had to bounce back up.”

It reflects the choice of music in the band’s touring van; Them Crooked Vultures, Karnivool, Muse, Xavier Rudd, Keb Mo, Derek Trucks Band, Miles Davis …

“It’s an honest take on my life over the last 3-4 years. It’ll drop ya down and then pick you up, remind you of who your real buddies are and hopefully scare off the succubus.”

Steeped in quieter, contemplative moments , it also buckets and roars like the progressive roots music of say, Ash Grunwald or Dallas Frasca.

“It goes from straight out hillbilly rock to deep roots/rock ballads. There are fun festivals songs and songs about heartbreak.  We used Marshall stacks and Fender twins on 10 as well as mandolins and 1930s Gibson acoustics with brushes … it’s totally honest music.”

To be released in May 2010 with a nationwide tour, the album is eagerly awaited by a nation hooked on independent, home-grown Aussie music.

“We can’t wait to get back on the road,” grins OKell. “We’ve spent almost 4 months making the record and ‘Mad Max’, our tour van, has been calling us. We’ve got 30 shows booked around the country in 8 weeks, that’ll sort us out.”

Okell learned all about excess the hard way, growing up in Dad’s touring guitar cases, soaking up rhythm & blues and the rules of the road. He was born, truly, on a full moon on Friday 13th, to a musician father and a music-loving mother.

Reared in rental properties in tough West Ballina he mixed it with Aboriginal kids from the Bunjalung Nation, who taught him to move quick and respect the original custodians of the North Coast. With three Koori godchildren and years working in high schools he became as much a part of the coast as the surf. Studying social science at nearby Lismore University he’d hitch-hike to Uni, then rehearsals with his first bands, where he developed his mighty voice and devastating guitar hands.

Surfing informed his music, and vice versa. The band’s first album had immense exposure in the surfing industry, including songs on Surfing Life compilations, surf movies and appearance at a Quicksilver pro show. An avowed supporter of the Sea Shepherd, Marshall is always picking rubbish off the beach after a surf.

Meanwhile, his performances are igniting fervent reactions up and down the country. He displays the ability, like all great performers, to go inside his music, and inhabit it like a shaman.

“I go somewhere in the cosmos when I play, time stops and I really don’t know how long I’m out sometimes.

“When a massive crowd loses their shit I go a step further, I’m excited to find out how far a big explosive crowd can push me or tip me over the edge.”

Wherever he goes, it’s working. Marshall and the Fro are set to ride into the big leagues and the release of ‘title’ is the tipping point. Once that wave rolls they’re in for a helluva ride.

Jimmy Willing album Review

Jimmy Willing and the Real Gone Hick-Ups have finally released their debut, self-titled album, a landmark rustic masterpiece containing 13 joyful, rambunctious songs.
Hearkening back to old time epics by the likes of Hank Williams, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, it’s an eclectic carousel of lovesick sailors and dipsomaniacal rodeo clowns, singing dogs and satanic cardsharks that co-exist in a compact disc sounding like it was made in Sun Studios sometime in fashionable antiquity.
Jimmy has been extremely canny in selecting his musicians, a well-drilled squad of unlikely hillbillies who have adapted their talents to his backwoods ballads with charm and poise.
Clancy Robinson has been playing with Jimmy for 15 years now, a Faustian pact that has seen Clancy, already a superb hardcore rock drummer, develop his playing to incorporate the archaic waltzes, jigs and shuffles that distinguish Jimmy’s songs.
Likewise Tom Jones, who came to the band a slick electric bass player, had to dig deep to gain proficiency on old-school double bass, but now he swings it around like a Grand Ole Oprey sessioneer.
Dave Ramsey, already a veteran blues and folk balladeer when he joined the band, lends a powerful presence and bona fide hillbilly chops on rhythm guitar, but it is the unassuming Dan Rumour on electric guitar that provides Jimmy’s songs with their most telling motifs.
Dan is of course the lonesome guitar voice of the sadly departed Cruel Sea and his concise, scientific playing is none the less as lyrical as the likes of Link Wray and gives the songs a weight and authentic lustre that helps make this album a genuine alternative country classic.
Then there are the incomparable contributions of the album’s two guest star diva appearances. Glenys Rae Virus, a former Toe Sucking Cowgirl and current leader of the Tamworth Playboys, is a virtuoso on country fiddle and squeezebox, and she plies her weapons with consummate skill and bawdy finesse, while Christa Hughes, Queen of cabaret and seamless one-liners, struts about her duet ‘Catfish Fishin’ with all the saucy panache of a hussy born to the hills.
With the contributions of these luminaries wedded to Willing’s saucy prose and simple, addictive ditties, this album has landed intact as the new word in hillbilly music. Available via or at any of the band’s shows.