I normally get a sense of whether I’ll like a song or not from the first 10 seconds or so. I promise myself that I’ll listen to a whole track before I decide whether to write about it or not, but it’s not often that I change my mind. However, Hayden Calnin managed to do just that with his new single “Coward.”

It started off a very minimalist electronic number which frankly bored me a bit. But it’s a slow burner that rewards any listener that sticks with it. It builds beautifully. It’s so clever the way Hayden’s melded electronic and folk influences. It’s got such a raw emotional core that I couldn’t help but be won over.

“Coward” is our first taste of Hayden’s forthcoming sophomore EP. He’ll launch it with a pair of shows in the major capitals. See him play The Workers Club in Melbourne on December 6 or FBi Social in Sydney on December 13.

Image used with permission from Create Control

Melbourne Zoo isn’t generally the place you think of visiting when you want to hear some great tunes, but this summer it’s playing host to some of the best Aussie and international acts you’ll find. Fourteen incredible shows will run over six weeks for the Melbourne Zoo Twilights 2014 season.

Tickets to all shows include full access to the zoo, so make sure you get there early to meet its residents. There’ll be plenty to see, as the zoo will welcome a baby elephant any day now, and it’s getting a new lemur exhibition in December.

All Twilight shows are fully licensed and there are plenty of food outlets serving up everything from takeaway pizzas to gourmet sit-down dinners. Just remember that there’s no BYO alcohol or glass permitted.

All proceeds from the shows will go towards the zoo’s conservation programs, including its They’re Calling You campaign. This unique idea encourages people to recycle their mobile phones to save wild gorillas. It seems like a strange link, but phone recycling helps reduce the demand for coltan mining which destroys gorilla habitats.

Tickets are on sale now from the Melbourne Zoo website for the following shows.

24 January 2014 – Perfect Tripod Australian Songs (with Dan Kelly)
25 January 2014 – BABBA (ABBA Tribute Band)
31 January 2014 – Songs That Made Me (Katie Noonan, Angie Hart, Abby Dobson and Martha Marlow)
1 February 2014 – Jessica Mauboy (with Ms Murphy)
7 February 2014 – Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes with Chris Russell’s Chicken Walk
8 February 2014 – Queens Of The Outback (Priscilla Tribute)
14 February 2014 – James Reyne & Daryl Braithwaite
15 February 2014 – Xavier Rudd (with Max Rudd)
21 February 2014 – Something For Kate (with The Orbweavers)
22 February 2014 – Hotel California (Eagles Tribute)
28 February 2014 – Josh Pyke (with Thelma Plum)
1 March 2014 – Neko Case (with Dick Diver)
7 March 2014 – Charles Bradley (with Saskwatch)
8 March 2014 – Fat Freddy’s Drop (with Oscar Key Sung)

Image used with permission from Two Fish Out of Water

Sydney trio Little May are about to embark on an East Coast tour to celebrate the success of their latest single “Hide.”

This beautiful folky number reached number two on the Hype Machine and Airit charts and has chalked up almost 300, 000 Soundcloud plays. How about you have a listen and help them crack that milestone?

If you like what you hear, make sure you check out Little May at one of the following shows. Tickets are dirt cheap so they should fit into your festive budget nicely!

7 December 2013 – Southside Tea Room, Brisbane ($5 at the door)
15 December 2013 – The Workers Club, Melbourne ($10 pre-sale or $15 at the door)
19 December 2013 – Yours & Owls, Wollongong ($10 pre-sale or $15 at the door)
20 & 21 December 2013 – Brighton Up Bar, Sydney ($10 pre-sale or $15 at the door)

Image used with permission from Positive Feedback

Generally there are two types of former Australian Idol contestants. There are the Guy Sebastians, the Matt Corbys, the Jess Mauboys. They’ve long since shaken off the reality show contestant tag and enjoyed continued success since their reality TV stint. And then there are the Kate DeAraugos, the Natalie Gaucis, the Luke Dickenses. They made it to the pointy end of the competition only to disappear from the musical landscape almost as quickly as they appeared. Somewhere in the middle is a performer like Damien Leith. He didn’t reach the dizzy heights of many of the show’s victors, but he’s refused to just fade away either. Instead he’s quietly devoted himself to his love of music. It might surprise you if you weren’t watching his career closely, but he’s just released his seventh album, aptly titled Chapter Seven.

I haven’t heard too much from Damien in the years since his win, but they’ve served him well. His distinctive soaring voice is in fine form, but he’s learned to reign in his falsetto and use it only for effect. I’m not sure whether that’s about Damien developing as an artist, or if he simply knows that he doesn’t need to deliver the big crowd-pleasing notes that inspire people to pick up the phone anymore. Either way, the vocal performances on Chapter Seven feel really natural and honest.

Damien has a real knack for writing solid songs that have something to say. None of them are catchy enough to really take off on the charts, but they reward the fan that takes the time to listen. “See You Again” captures the feelings of yearning that come from time on the road so eloquently. “I Can Stop You Crying” has such simple, gentle instrumentation which ensures the words aren’t overshadowed. “Faith in Me” is a beautiful song about personal strength.

It’s worth noting that the latter tracks I mentioned were written in collaboration with Joe Melson, the man behind many of Roy Orbison’s biggest hits. Damien’s long spoken of the way Roy influenced his career (and he recorded a tribute album to prove it), so it seems only fitting that these artists are now working together and creating stand-out material.

Damien Leith wears his heart on his sleeve, and that’s so compelling. It’s impossible not to like an artist that so freely shares himself with his audience. He may not be reaching the masses that he did during his time on Idol, but with Chapter Seven Damien rewards anyone that’s willing to listen.

Image used with permission from Jaden Social

Dami Im continues to ride the wave of post-X Factor success. Not content with a number one single a few weeks ago, Dami’s debuted at number one with her self-titled album. It features that number one hit “Alive” as well as tracks performed during her stint on the reality TV juggernaut. Her album’s the 12th by a local performer to hit number one on the ARIA charts this year. That beats the previous record of 11 Aussie number ones set in 2004. Does 2013 have another Aussie number one in it?

It seems plenty of us are already feeling festive, as Human Nature’s The Christmas Album has jumped into the top ten this week. It sits at number nine, three positions better than it was last week. Tina Arena’s also still hanging around the top ten. She rounds out the top ten with Reset this week.

Dami’s fellow X Factor finalist Taylor Henderson is also holding his own. His single “Borrow My Heart” is sitting at number five this week. Guy Sebastian’s “Like a Drum” is showing it’s got real staying power. A month after its release it sits at number seven. Justice Crew have dropped a couple of positions, but they’ve still claimed a top ten spot with “Everybody.”

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Brisbane bluesman Jimi Beavis takes the road less travelled with the quirky new album Gentleman Giant.

The lead single “You’re Much too Young for Me” gives us a taste of what we can expect from this unusual artist. The track has a gorgeous old-timey blues feel, but it’s imbued with a thoroughly modern sense of humour. Jimi says the track came about when he returned to university as a mature age student and found himself surrounded by so many much younger, incredibly attractive women.

Jimi says Gentleman Giant has been in the makings since he was a teen listening to the music of Bob Dylan and his contemporaries, and later the music that inspired their sound. Through this period of keen musical discovery he amassed an insane knowledge of roots music as well as some serious harmonica skills. It comes on the back of Jimi’s two EPs, which gave him the studio experience he needed to tackle this ambitious long-player.

To celebrate Gentleman Giant’s release, Jimi will play a trio of launch shows in the East Coast capitals later this month.

Jimi Beavis will release Gentleman Giant independently on November 29. It’ll be available online from Jimi’s Bandcamp site, at selected Brisbane music stores, and at the following shows.

28 November 2013 – The Public Bar, Melbourne
1 December 2013 – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
8 December 2013 – Coogee Diggers, Sydney

Image used with permission from Pricewar Music

The weekend is nearly upon us. Woohoo! What better way to celebrate than with a sneaky peek at Homes’ charming new single “Best Disguise.” Homes is the brainchild of longterm musical collaborators Fin Bradley and Henry Badgery. Their latest project celebrates their mutual love of disco, soul, and good old fashioned rock and roll.

“Best Disguise” is their latest incarnation’s first release, and it’s so damned catchy. Its bold brassy horns and punchy riffs move it along nicely. The much maligned kazoo even makes an appearance. Just see if you’re not “woohooing” along with the twosome by the track’s end.

“Best Disguise” is officially released on November 25.

It might be only November, but I’ve already found my summer soundtrack thanks to Busby Marou. I slipped their latest album Farewell Fitzroy on recently to motivate me with my weekend housework and before I knew it I’d listened to it five times.

From the opening track “My Second Mistake,” this is album is a really easy listen. I don’t mean that in a negative sense at all. It’s far from lazy, but it is accessible. It especially feels familiar to a fan like me. They’re certainly not going to alienate their faithful followers with this collection of songs.

The music is so organic, and matched with really insightful, witty songwriting that brings back the art of telling a story through lyrics. Acoustic guitar and those natural harmonies anchor every song. I think I said something similar when I reviewed the Toowoomba duo’s debut, but they’re not resting on their laurels. Keys, mandolin, harmonica, strings, and electric guitars play more of a part than I remember them doing on the first album, which felt like much more of a two-hander. They’ve certainly built on their signature sound, but there’s still that essential Busby Marou core.

I’m still trying to settle on a favourite song because there really are no filler tracks. If you pressed me though I might name “Leave It Up to Me” because it’s just got such a powerful emotional centre and vulnerability about it. I also never imagined Busby Marou would create a song as epic as “Wage a War.” It builds to something truly special.

I certainly expect to be naming different tracks as I fully absorb this album over the coming months. But even a few days into listening to it I know Busby Marou haven’t suffered from any second-album syndrome here. The band raised the bar so high with their debut, but they certainly match that effort with Farewell Fitzroy.

While the rest of the country was fawning all over Harrison Craig, I was falling for one of The Voice’s more seasoned contestants. I was captivated every week by Mitchell Anderson, and when he was given the boot I couldn’t wait to see what he’d do next. Thankfully those plans included a show at my favourite haunt, Lizotte’s Kincumber, last Friday night.

That voice that was so powerful on television gave me goosebumps in an intimate venue like Lizotte’s. The bio on the menu claimed that Mitchell is one of the best white soul singers, but I don’t think we need that qualifier. Few voices anywhere drip soul as much as his.

But there’s more to Mitchell than just a voice. He oozes positivity out of every pore. It’s just so much fun to see him perform. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as he treated us to a set that paid tribute to the world’s great soul and blues artists. He treated us to a few originals, but it was those covers that got the place on their feet. Many of them were featured on The Voice, but there were many more than didn’t make it on the show. I loved hearing him take on a few BB King and Joe Cocker numbers. That Voice cover of “Dear Prudence” though is still one of the best things I’ve ever heard.

One of the best things about a show like The Voice is that it gives a guy like Mitchell, and the talented musicians he’s played with for years, exposure. They certainly didn’t play second fiddle to their now famous frontman. Every one of them has the musical chops to play with the best in the Australian business. Together their sound was so tight. What a wonderful thing such experience is.

People like to find fault with shows like The Voice. However, after witnessing a concert like Mitchell’s, I’m really glad it exists to introduce me to artists of his calibre and help him attract the crowds he so richly deserves.

Image source: own photo

Tony Hadley seems to have developed a liking for Australia. He’s visited our shores four times in the last five years, which isn’t bad for someone who hasn’t had a hit for decades. The Spandau Ballet frontman peddles nostalgia, and he does it so well that I haven’t missed one of those recent tours.

I also continue to see Tony because he never rests on his laurels. Sure, he mostly sings the same songs, but it’s always packaged up just slightly differently. There was the tour with Paul Young, with his Spandau Ballet bandmates, with Go West, and now with a symphony. This was the most intriguing for me. I was curious to hear how Spandau’s legendary synth and guitar-driven sound would work with strings and wind instruments.

The result was honestly mixed. If it was simply Tony and the Sydney Symphonia musicians, I think the sound might have been more coherent. However, with those trademark electric guitars and keys still present, sometimes the sound got confused. Sometimes it seemed like the musicians were competing against one another, but in other places the marriage was perfect. It was certainly an interesting experiment, but not one that always worked.

The show was cleverly split up into two halves. The first saw Tony playing a few tracks from his soon to be released solo album as well as the songs that have influenced his career. This was really interesting for a music buff like me. I never imagined I’d get to hear him sing The Eagles’ “New York Minute,” “David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” or “Jimmy Buffet’s “Time in a Bottle.” The latter was particularly touching, with stripped back instrumentation letting those beautiful lyrics come to the fore.

After intermission it was time for the Spandau Ballet hits that brought us there. These certainly took on a new dimension with the orchestral arrangements. I even found myself enjoying some songs, like “Muscle Bound,” which hadn’t struck a chord with me before. “Through the Barricades” was suitably epic, and the favourites “True” and “Gold” had everyone in the stalls dancing. What a shame the State Theatre’s “no dancing in the dress circle” policy prevented me from joining them!

No matter what he’s singing, Tony is the consummate professional. He’s trimmed down since his last visit to Oz, and I think it’s given him even more energy. His voice also only seems to get stronger as the years march on. He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the first song, and kept them there. He just doesn’t disappoint. That’s why I’m wondering when his next visit to our part of the world will be!

Image source: own photos