Most of my concert reviews are about the performances of singers or bands. But after heading to Sydney to catch a performance of Les Miserables last weekend, I figured it was only right that I made time for a different kind of music review.

Ordinarily when I see a show I’m keen as mustard and my husband’s the slightly reluctant companion. It’s not that he doesn’t like music, but he’d generally rather have a night in with the stereo than see an artist in the flesh. However, when we learned Les Mis was coming to town, it was him who dragged me along. I’d seen the movie, again at his insistence, but it’s never been a musical that’s particularly resonated with me. But I couldn’t fail to be impressed with this latest production.

Where the most recent film adaptation was filled with big stars, the current Australian production has people who largely unknown outside the theatre world. The only name I recognised was the splendid Trevor Ashley playing Thénardier, and it took me some time to make the connection as I’m so used to seeing him in drag! Personally I think the lack of big names is a good thing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it stops you getting pulled out of the story. These people can truly inhabit these characters because you’re never thinking about them being anywhere else. Also, clearly the creators were casting for talent over big names. I’m sure the creators of the Hollywood film could have found a stronger Javert, for example, but he likely wouldn’t have had the profile of Russell Crowe to get bums on seats.

The cast of this musical are stellar. I was floored by Simon Gleeson as Jean Valjean, who in my opinion might have done better than Hugh Jackman’s Oscar winning performance. Hayden Tee as Javert was every bit his equal. Kerrie Anne Greenland’s turn as Eponine was a much smaller role, but her performance of “On My Own” brought tears to my eyes. I can’t be sure which of the little boys played Gavroche when I saw it, but he was born to play that role. What a natural! It’s such a shame this production decided to omit “Little People”! It would had added even more poignancy to his untimely death.

The incredible cast were supported by a really beautiful set with excellent lighting effects that really brought the play to life. I wondered whether it would lose something for me being on the stage, without Hollywood special effects and that big budget, but it was so cleverly done. Javert’s death in particular was incredibly realistic.

I might not be as big a Les Mis fan as my husband, but I challenge anyone to be unmoved when the chorus of voices join in songs like “One More Day” and “Can You Hear the People Sing?” The current production of Les Miserables is a master stroke, and I’m so glad I was dragged along. If you’re living in Sydney and you’ve been considering going, don’t hesitate. You won’t be disappointed.

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Based on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, it’s only right that Ocean Alley should be influenced by the surf rock music of the past. Throw in some reggae and psychedelic sounds and you might have some indication of what their new single “Muddy Water” is all about.

However, those genres don’t quite manage to capture the whole story. I can hear all those influences shining through, but the song has a darkness that I don’t often associate with surf rock or reggae. It’s really intriguing, and I can’t wait to hear more.

“Muddy Water” comes from Ocean Alley’s forthcoming second EP In Purple. You can hear songs from it when the band kicks off their EP tour this Friday in front of a hometown crowd. It’ll make stops in the East Coast capitals and key regional destinations before arriving back in Sydney in October.

28 August 2015 – Rare Finds #5 @ Oxford Art Factory Gallery, Sydney (FREE)
6 September 2015 – Bald Faced Stag, Sydney (ALL AGES)
11 September 2015 – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
17 September 2015 – The Brightside, Brisbane
19 September 2015 – Great Northern, Byron Bay (FREE)
20 September 2015 – Sounds of Sunday, Gold Coast (FREE)
25 September 2015 – Uni Bar, Wollongong
2 October 2015 – The Evelyn, Melbourne
15 October 2015 – Oxford Arts Factory, Sydney

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I’ve always enjoyed the singles I’ve heard from The Paper Kites, but it wasn’t until I received a stream of their new album twelvefour that I actually delved into one of their complete works. I’m so glad that I did.

The new album opens with “Electric Indigo,” easing us in to the recording with some familiarity. It was great to hear the single again, as it helped heighten my anticipation for what would come next.
What comes next is beautiful song after beautiful song. They’re so well crafted, with lush instrumentation and really superb lyrics.

I was particularly drawn to “Bleed Confusion,” a dreamy number about finding your place in a relationship. “Revelator Eyes” sounds like it’d make the perfect driving soundtrack, with its relentless beat and easy vocals. “Neon Crimson” is delicate and mesmerising for its minimalism. “Silent Cause” is another minimalist number, with little more than the strumming of an acoustic guitar and pretty harmonising vocals. Generally The Paper Kites have gone for songs with a slightly bigger sound this time around, which only makes the smaller numbers that much more engaging to me. “Too Late” is such a poignant, haunting end to this really special album.

Twelvefour is one of those albums you could put on at the end of a dinner party when you’re all sitting around drinking wine, wanting music that won’t interrupt the flow of conversation. It’s mellow and low-key, so you could put it in the background if you wanted to. But its songs deserve more than that. I put it on to work but found myself getting drawn out of what I was doing to listen to the lyrics. They’re superb. The album stream saw me chained to my desk, but I’d really love to put it on in the car where I could give it even more attention. I enjoy this album now, but something tells me I’m going to love it even more with every listen.

Twelvefour hits stores on August 28.

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I missed writing about the charts last week when Delta Goodrem earned another number one single with “Wings,” but with her song standing firm and three Aussie artists debuting in the top five on the albums charts, I knew I had to get typing this week.

“Wings” is on line to become Delta’s longest standing number one. “Out of the Blue” lasted for three weeks at the top spot, but that was all pre-Voice, so it’ll be interesting to see whether this song has the legs to eclipse that record. She’s actually the only Aussie act in the singles top 10, but Vance Joy is climbing up the charts with “Fire and the Flood,” so hopefully he can keep her company soon.

It’s much rosier for Aussies on the album charts. Wales’ Bullet for my Valentine held out local acts at bay, Dead Letter Circus are nipping at their heels with Aesthesis. It’s their third album to debut at number two.
Right behind them at number three is everyone’s favourite rocker Jimmy Barnes with a compilation album Best of the Soul Years. If you don’t already have Soul Deep, Soul Deeper, and The Rhythm and the Blues, this is a must.

Fans have shown they were hungry for another Waifs album. Their first in four years, Beautiful You, sits at number five on debut.

After a big showing last week, The Rubens have slipped to number nine with Hoops.

Click below for this week’s top 10s.

Top 10 Albums
1. Venom – Bullet for my Valentine
2. Aesthesis – Dead Letter Circus
3. Best of the Soul Years – Jimmy Barnes
4. ComptonDr Dre
5. Beautiful YouThe Waifs
6. 1989Taylor Smith
7. XEd Sheeran
8. TitleMeghan Trainor
9. HoopsThe Rubens
10. Chaos and the Calm – James Bay

Top 10 Singles
1. “Wings” – Delta Goodrem
2. “How Deep is Your Love” – Calvin Harris & Disciples
3. “Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd
4. “Are You With Me (Original Mix)” – Lost Frequencies
5. “Ghost Town” – Adam Lambert
6. “Peanut Butter Jelly” – Galantis
7. “That’s How You Know” – Nico & Vinz feat. Kid Ink & Bebe Rexha
8. “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” – Meghan Trainor feat. John Legend
9. “Do It Again” – Pia Mia feat. Chris Brown & Tyga
10. “Get Stupid” – Aston Merrygold

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My computer’s been buggy for the last few days. Thank god for queued up posts or I would have had nothing to show you guys in the last week. The biggest problem, whenever I tried to do something involving Flash it crashed. That meant no games of Scrabble over Facebook, and no listening to Soundcloud. You don’t realise how much that website is your lifeline to new music until it’s gone.

Anyway, long story short, my IT expert husband worked his magic this weekend and did something I don’t really understand, and I’m back in business. And I was pretty thrilled that the first song I got to hear was “Forgive Me,” the debut single from cool new Melbourne singer-songwriter Brash THE EMPIRE. It comes from her upcoming new EP A New Country, which sounds like a pretty apt name.

This song is definitely a new kind of country. I love the way that she’s played with the genre, giving it a treatment that’s quite bluesy and sultry. Her voice has such a distinctive, interesting tone too.
If you’re into it, make sure you get along to Some Velvet Morning in Melbourne for the single launch on August 27.

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Ms Murphy was one of the standouts of season two of the Voice, but she’s been a little quiet in the years since. Apparently she released an EP last year to very little fanfare, but she looks set to get back in the spotlight with the release of her new album Dirty Soul.

Dirty Soul sees Ms Murphy putting her soulful stamp on an eclectic collection of songs. Some of the songs are soul standards delivered faithfully by the Sydney songbird. Others are more unusual choices, like cuts from Rolling Stones and Paul Kelly.

No matter what she’s working with, Ms Murphy gives every song an old school soul treatment, with big horns marrying beautifully with her big husky vocals. There’s a little bit of grittiness in this dirty soul; it would have been recorded at Stax rather than Motown if you catch my drift. But it was actually cut at Sydney’s REC Studios, all live, a treatment which gives the tracks a real spontaneous vibe.

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard “Ninety Nine and a Half Won’t Do,” but her energetic cover of The Wright Specials song is a real album standout. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a woman singing “When a Man Loves a Woman,” but I love the way Ms Murphy’s version flips the song. Her groovy version of “Express Yourself” put a bit smile on my face, as did her take on “Needle in a Haystack.” “I Just Want to Celebrate” is the perfect closer for such a feel good album.

Some might say that delivering an album full of cover songs is a bit safe, and in some ways it is. The familiarity of these songs makes the album instantly accessible, and I’m sure it’ll sell well in the lead-up to Father’s Day. But Ms Murphy is damn good at what she does, and working with songs of such quality is the perfect vehicle for showcasing her talents.

Dirty Soul hits stores on August 28, and it available for pre-order now. Ms Murphy will launch the album with a show at The Basement in Sydney on October 8 and a string of shows on Melbourne’s Chapel off Chapel (October 20-23).

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After waxing lyrical about his single “Valerie” last week, I could wait to dive into Tim Wheatley’s solo album Cast of Yesterday. I was not disappointed.

Just like “Valerie,” the album hooked me instantly with its opening track “The Heathen,” a sultry blues-country number with wailing harmonicas and a driving guitar beat. The second song “78 Benz” shifted gears, but grabbed me with its lyrics about freedom and trying to figure out your place in the world.

These two songs are just some of the highlights in this stellar body of work. I’d be remiss not to mention the modern country feel of the banjo-driven “Burning the Midnight Oil.” I marvelled at the way “Dumb Luck” could floor me in just over a minute, but its quiet stillness did just that. The soulful “The Messenger” is another standout.

But the thing is, there are no filler songs here. Everything is amazing, and I have a feeling my favourites are going to change depending on my mood. Each and every song stands up on its own, but together they create a picture of an artist who’s poised on the edge of greatness. I love the way Tim uses harmonicas and slide guitars and other underutilised instruments to add atmosphere. The way he blends country, folk, and blues is inspired. And there’s Tim’s sexy, husky voice and his incredible way with words. This is an artist who knows himself, who’s come out the other side of alter egos (Crooked Saint) and bands (Rushcutter, The Sparrows) and figured out the kind of music he needs to make. And it’s wonderful.

Cast of Yesterday is available for pre-order ahead of its August 28 release.

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When I was younger, there was plenty of live music on TV. My parents weren’t into Countdown, but I remember tuning in to catch bands play on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. Later there was always a live performance on Rove Live and The Panel. I even remember seeing a lot of cool acts on Good Morning Australia and Midday. Today RocKwiz brings us live music when it’s on, The Loop’s started to give us live interviews and performances, and the morning shows and singing reality programs are happy to book acts once they’ve hit the mainstream, but we don’t see nearly as much live music. Where do young artists go when they release a single or album?

Well, next month they’ll probably start heading to Amateur Hour TV, a new half hour-ish web series created by Laura Imbruglia. Each episode promises to feature live performances, interviews, comedy skits, and other assorted entertainment filmed in Melbourne’s bars and rehearsal spaces.

Laura created the series after lamenting the lack of Australian variety shows. She insisted she’d make her own, and after asking for volunteers to join her quickly amassed a crew of more than 30 willing folks. They’ve pulled the show together on a shoestring, and it deserves your attention.

Episode one of the six episode pilot season will hit the web on September 1. New episodes will air every two weeks. Head to the Amateur Hour TV website and subscribe to the channel to stay up to date with everything Amateur Hour TV.

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I always love an interesting cover version. It’s so exciting when an artist can make me look at a song differently and reveal parts of the lyrics I hadn’t tapped in to before. So in that spirit, check out Billy Fox’s take on John Farnham’s 80s classic, “Pressure Down.”

“I originally did an arrangement of it at live shows with no plans to release it, until fans kept asking how they could get their hands on it,” explained the Sydney-based songwriter. “So I rearranged it in my studio and sent my arrangement to Sesta (The Funkoars) who added some more drums and other sounds to it”.

I know this stripped back cover isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but I think this unique cover really works. Love it or hate it, I’d love to know what you think!

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I’ve long been fascinated with the Amish, so I was thrilled to see Safia’s looked to this religious sect to inspire their new clip for “Embracing Me.” It tells the story of the star-crossed relationship of two ridiculously good-looking Amish folk beautifully, and the song’s not bad either just quietly. Look out for the Canberra trip amongst the clip’s cast.

Safia are currently promoting “Embracing Me” with shows all around the country which are selling out at a great rate of knots. These will be Safia’s last shows for the year, and looking at the number of sold out dates they’re bound to be big.

15 August 2015 – Darwin Festival, Darwin
20 August¬ 2015 – Karova Lounge, Ballarat
21 August 2015 – Bended Elbow, Geelong
22 August 2015 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne (SOLD OUT)
23 August 2015 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne (SOLD OUT)
24 August 2015 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne (SOLD OUT)
25 August 2015 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne (SOLD OUT)
27 August 2015 – Wollongong Uni Bar, Wollongong (SOLD OUT)
29 August 2015 – The Small Ballroom, Newcastle (SOLD OUT)
30 August 2015 – The Small Ballroom, Newcastle (SOLD OUT)
2 September 2015 – Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane (SOLD OUT)
3 September 2015 – Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane (SOLD OUT)
4 September 2015 – The Beach Hotel, Byron Bay (FREE)
9 September 2015 – The Factory Theatre, Sydney (ALL AGES)
10 September 2015 – The Factory Theatre, Sydney (ALL AGES – SOLD OUT)
11 September 2015 – The Factory Theatre, Sydney (ALL AGES – SOLD OUT)
12 September 2015 – ANU Bar, Canberra
18 September 2015 – Fowlers Live, Adelaide (ALL AGES – SOLD OUT)
19 September 2015 – Amplifier Bar, Perth (SOLD OUT)
20 September 2015 – Mojo’s Bar, Fremantle (SOLD OUT)
21 September 2015 – Amplifier Bar, Perth

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