I was just 13 when The Yearning, Things of Stone and Wood’s debut album, was released. Like so many Aussies, I adored the band’s blend of folk, pop, and rock, especially the super catchy breakthrough single “Happy Birthday Helen.” I always regretted that I was too young to get to a pub and see them live. As is the way with so many bands of the era though, I got another chance when they hit Sydney on the weekend.

Things have changed a little though. I can’t imagine the band playing a matinee back in the ‘90s. There was something lovely about shuffling in to the old Sando after a café lunch though, knowing that the gig would be all wrapped up in time for tea. That we’d be back on the Coast at a civilised hour! As we’re all getting older, these things matter.

Charming indie folk duo The Old Married Couple warmed up the crowd. The real life husband and wife pairing delivered honest and quirky love songs that quickly won me over with their whimsy, and use of unusual instruments like kazoos and whistles.

The crowd surged forward when Club Hoy took to the stage. I must admit, I’m not sure where I was when they came out originally. All I know is that I had absolutely no recollection of this band that seemed to mean so much to so many people in the audience. I could certainly appreciate them though. They reminded me a lot of the Indigo Girls with their beautiful harmonies and powerful, personal lyrics.

Things of Stone and Wood though. When they came out I was on much more familiar territory. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Yearning (seriously, where has the time gone?) the band promised to play the album in its entirety, from start to finish. Unlike so much music from the ‘90s, these songs haven’t dated one bit. The band also sounds just as good as they did on that recording, or perhaps even better with their producer James Black now on keys and mandolin. The chemistry between the members of the band and their connection with the crowd was electric. I’m struggling to recall a show in recent memory where there was so much palpable love in the room.

The big singles like “Rock This Boat,” “Share This Wine,” and of course “Happy Birthday Helen” were received rapturously. But in a concert like this, every song has a special place in the heart of the audience, so the energy level in the room never dropped. After wrapping up The Yearning, the band had delivered just what they promised. But none of us were done. So we were treated to an encore of songs from Things of Stone and Wood’s other releases. I was reminded just how good “Wildflowers,” a song I hadn’t thought of in years, is.

Honestly, as I re-entered the real world I marvelled at just how good Things of Stone and Wood are. While this show was about nostalgia and celebrating their landmark release, it also served as a reminder that this band continue to be one of the best Australia has produced. There are a couple of shows on this tour left. If you can get out and see them this week at one of these gigs, I promise you won’t regret it.

29 March 2017 – The Spiegeltent, Hobart
31 March 2017 – Workers Club, Geelong
1 April 2017 – Sound Lounge, Currumbin
2 April 2017 – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane

Image source: own photos

With some time to myself today it seemed the perfect moment to actually sit down and write about the exceptional concert I saw in Sydney last Friday night. No, not Adele. You wouldn’t know it judging by all the media hype, but Sydney actually welcomed two more international stars that night: Jewel and Don Henley.

As a woman of a certain age, I was pretty excited about seeing folk songbird live. Sadly a dinner that ran overtime and some unexpectedly long lines outside the new ICC Sydney Theatre meant we were a little late, but what I caught was just what I’d hoped it would be. Just Jewel, who looks like she hasn’t aged a day since the ‘90s, her acoustic guitar, and that sublime voice of hers. I loved hearing hits from Pieces of You as stripped back as they were on that original album. “Foolish Games” had me welling up. I also developed a new appreciation for “Intuition,” a song I’d always hated because it seemed so overproduced. The acoustic mode really let its cutting lyrics shine. A special moment between Jewel and her young son, dueting on a song sung for generations in her family, tugged at the heart strings. She really made the most of her all-too-brief time on stage, sharing stories and songs with such warmth. There was even yodelling! I really hope to see her back in Australia soon, because she was superb.

After seeing The Eagles a couple of times before Glenn Frey’s untimely death, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Don’s solo show. I knew the songs would be good, but I wondered whether the Eagles’ tracks would seem a little lacking without the other Eagles voices in the mix. But Don knows what he’s doing. He assembled one of the tightest bands I’ve seen in some time, including three superb backup singers my husband recognised from The Voice US. He opened with a song from her latest album Cass County, “Seven Bridges Road,” a stripped back country number which really showcased the vocal talents of all on stage.

While this show was about touring Cass County, Don knows what fans want to hear. He promised us he’d do the occasional song for him, but plenty of songs for us, and he did. The set drew heavily from his days with The Eagles; wisely he stuck to those tracks where he originally sang lead vocals, ensuring they sounded just right to our ears. I was especially thrilled to hear “The Last Resort,” a song that Don admitted he hadn’t played for decades before embarking on these solo shows. Tracks from the ‘80s were also celebrated. Despite their advancing years they sounded so fresh, especially “The End of the Innocence” with its lyrics so resonant in the time of Trump. There were surprises too; I’m not sure anyone expected Don Henley to launch into “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

It took until the second encore for Don to address the elephant in the room and chat about Glenn Frey, his longtime collaborator who we so sadly lost last year. He told us how he missed him before launching into two of the songs they penned together: “Wasted Time” and “Desperado.” Such painful songs made more poignant under the circumstances. We took a moment, remembered, and then danced. It’s what Glenn would have wanted I think. “All She Wants to Do is Dance” was the perfect closer for Don Henley’s show, a performance that was about nostalgia but also celebrating an artist that continues to be at the top of his game.

He hasn’t even graduated from high school yet, but already Brisbane teen Xander Holmes is creating the kind of songs that musicians many years his senior would be proud of. His debut EP Ocean is an epic release made up of five tracks set to excite fans of artists like Matt Corby and Jeff Buckley.

Opening song and title track “Ocean” is an anthemic song that builds to a stirring crescendo. “My Will” and “Islands” are two of the strongest songs on the recording, in my opinion, with Xander’s dreamy vocals showing they’re up to the task, whether they’re contrasting with the urgent wailings of an electric guitar or keeping time with a driving drum beat. “Tidal” is an exquisite, atmospheric instrumental. A real master stroke. The closing track “Let There Be Light” is perhaps the EP’s most accessible song, a romantic piano ballad that really speaks to the heart. It’s much more stripped back than the other songs, yet for a track that speaks of love the way this one does I think the gentler touch works.

I love Xander’s voice and the way he’s built such beautiful soundscapes that complement it perfectly. Ocean is an accomplished EP that gives listeners a glimpse at a potential superstar of the future. It’s available now on a range of digital channels including iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify.

Young musicians have it tough. We’ve seen young performers make a splash on reality TV shows time and time again. They’re praised for having talent beyond their years, for being so good for their age, and then they’re soon forgotten about when the next wave of performers turns up. So it’s refreshing to see an artist like Ella Belfanti who has taken the time-honoured route of recording her debut release Going in Circles in her bedroom, then putting in the hard yards delivering it to music outlets like myself.

As a bedroom recording laid down with a two-line input audio, listening to Going in Circles is a very different listening experience than many music lovers are used to. Music has usually been polished within an inch of its life before we consume it. There’s something so refreshing about tuning into music that feels untainted like this.

I was instantly struck by Ella’s sweet voice. Not sugary sweet mind you, but pure and angelic with a commanding presence that draws you in. So do her lyrics. Songs like “Trying Not to Like You” and the irresistibly catchy “All of This” appealed to my inner teen who has never quite gone away. There’s such a quiet strength tempered by vulnerability in “Turn With the Tide” and “Make Up Your Mind.” “Focus” is perhaps the most ambitious song on the release, a haunting ballad that reveals an artist with so much potential. The closing track “Circles” is filled with so much longing, the perfect way to end this EP that explores early love and loss so eloquently.

Going in Circles is a collection of such good, organic folk songs. Songs that aren’t just good for the artist’s age, but good full stop. Ella shows great artistic instincts, building her sound with layered vocals and instruments (she plays everything from the guitar to drums, from flute to pencils tapped together in front of the mic!). Everything is in just the right place.

Remember the name, because Ella Belfanti has a big future ahead of her. Sydneysiders, you can see Ella play songs from Going in Circles at The Gasoline Pony in Marrickville on March 8.

I’m ashamed to write that Seven Long Years by Aussie expat Musketeer has sat in my inbox since late January. I’ve listened to it from time to time but I couldn’t quite get the words together to articulate my thoughts on it. So I left it there, knowing I wanted to write about it but waiting for the right time. As March approaches, I’ve decided there may not be a right time and it’s best just to push that writer’s block out of my mind and write.

Seven Long Years is such an interesting EP. It’s the short form of a concept album really. I’d thought that in four songs that might not work, that you’d need more material to really present a story without glossing over it, but Musketeer handles it beautifully. The EP tells the story of a 19th century British convict sent to Australia’s prison camp. It’s a tale anyone familiar with Australian history is well acquainted with, but one that should resonate with modern listeners in light of the ongoing asylum seeker debate.

The opening song and title track is the most upbeat number on the EP. It has a Mumford & Sons vibe that I really dig, plaintive but rollicking good fun. “Hollow” brings a more sombre and reflective tone to the EP. The following track “Johnny Red” is a stirring epic, a real highlight. “Ticket of Leave” rounds the EP out, leaving us on just the right note.

Musketeer’s raw, rich vocals and the lush orchestral arrangements bring the historic tale to life. The music has an interesting blend of nostalgia and new-folk vibes that instantly drew me in.

Seven Long Years is available for streaming and download on iTunes, Spotify, and Bandcamp. You can also get a physical copy from Musketeer’s online store.

Tour dates are yet to be announced, but Musketeer promises to take the EP to audiences in Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia.

Image used with permission from Musketeer

As you’re reading this review, I’m relaxing on Kangaroo Island. I’m in a far more chilled out mood than I was when I wrote this, because I’ve been cruising down the East Coast for five days now. There’s something about taking a cruise, where I have nothing to do and an obliging crew of staff keen to take care of me, that just helps the stresses of the everyday melt away. I imagine Tom Busby and Jeremy Marou were in a similar mindset, albeit probably without the premium beverage package, when they recorded Postcards from the Shell House.

The Shell House that Busby Marou’s third album refers to is an old building on Great Keppel Island. The duo used to play songs there sitting around a campfire early in their careers, so it’s only fitting that they return to their roots and to the Shell House on this recording.

The duo doesn’t veer too far from their usual path with this recording. If you loved the cruisy acoustic folk-pop of their first two releases, this will be right up your alley. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve heard it all before.

While the duo is typically upbeat, some songs play in the shadows. There’s a real sadness and longing to the opening track “Best Part of Me.” I heard wistfulness in “Every Last Day in Between” that really tugged on the heartstrings.

“Paint This Land” has a stirring, epic quality to it. I can imagine it becoming the signature song for Australia Day. It just has that right amount of gravitas without feeling overly grandiose. The duo is collaborating this time around too. We’re used to Nat Dunn playing in the electronic space, but her appearance on the dreamy “Sleep On It” is one of the album’s highlights.

Postcards from the Shell House delivers easy, breezy, good vibes with just a hint of melancholy. It’s another solid release from this accomplished Queensland duo.

Postcards from the Shell House drops on February 17.

Image used with permission from Warner Music Australia

The Overland is the result of years spent writing, recording, and performing for Greg Steps & The Not for Prophets. That might seem like a long time to develop an EP, but these musicians have made sure every song counts.

“Trying to Wake the Dead” is the perfect introduction to the music Greg Steps & The Not for Prophets make together. I was reminded of the music of James Taylor and David Gray as I listened. Those are big shoes, but there’s something so similar and rare in today’s musical landscape about the great storyteller quality in Greg’s voice and the classic blend of an acoustic guitar, piano, mandolin, and fiddle.

I found myself getting sucked into the story of “Railway Man,” that traveller so far from home. The following song, “Famous Last Words” gave me another story to identify with. Listening to it made me wonder why more songwriters don’t tell stories with their songs.

“Half a World Away” is my favourite song on the EP, a stripped back folk song that builds to such an honest, raw crescendo. “Early Hours of Morning” is a beautiful way to end The Overland. I love the harmonies and the delicate calm of this one.

The Overland makes such a strong impression in five songs. It has a timeless quality that’s so appealing. Greg Steps and the Not for Prophets will launch it with a show at the Wesley Anne in Melbourne on February 24. It will be available from that date on iTunes, Bandcamp, and selected music stores.

After a few stressful days, I was looking for music to soothe my soul. I found it in The Leaving, the sophomore release from Melbourne singer-songwriter Rough River.

Her name suggests a performer much tougher than she appears to be. Her voice is rich and smooth, comforting, and her songs show a vulnerability that’s so endearing. The presser calls Rough River a folk-alternative country performer, a description which goes some way towards explaining the diversity of this release. “Sea Air and City Lights” has an ethereal, mystical quality, thanks to its gentle instrumentation and Rough River’s angelic voice. “Band of String” has an unashamedly old-school country vibe, and those country roots are also explored in a sublime cover of “Tennessee Waltz.” While elements of gospel can be heard in the album’s closing track “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Whatever sound she’s exploring, there’s a sadness and longing that ties the tracks together. Songs like “What You Did,” “Sweet Saccharin,” and “We All Want” pack a real emotional punch, with simple melodies that let the lyrics shine through.

The Leaving is such a special album. It shows a performer coming into her own and being unafraid to show herself. Every song is wonderful in its own right, but together they are breathtaking.

The Leaving hits stores on February 17.

Image used with permission from Dusky Tracks

Port Macquarie is nearly four hours from my place. It’s a lovely part of the world, but it takes something special to get me to make the journey. But the combination of an irresistible Red Hot Summer line-up and a catch-up with my friend Lisa (who hails from Brissie, so had a much longer journey than me) was too good to pass up.

Ben Hazelwood helped make the already warm crowd that little bit warmer. They don’t call these shows Red Hot Summer for nothing! I knew his name rang a bell, but was surprised to read that he was on the first season of The Voice. As I saw photos I remembered a performer who was talented but a little bland, a world away from this sexy rock god that graced the stage. He had just the right amount of drama and theatrics to pull me in, and his voice has matured so much in just a few years. I thoroughly enjoyed his set and made a mental note to check out more of his compelling originals.

From new discoveries to old favourites, Taxiride were up next. I knew a whole lot of hardcore Taxiride fans when I was in my late teens, but I can only recall catching them once. Watching them on the stage, I felt a little regret that I didn’t see more of them in the ’90s. They’re every bit as good as they once were, if you were wondering, with some of the tightest harmonies you’ll ever hear and a back catalogue that’s bigger than you might expect. I found myself singing along with every song and clapping heartily for them, enjoying myself thoroughly despite the rain that would plague the rest of the evening.
I’ve never really been a Shannon Noll fan. His music is easy to listen to, but it always felt a little Triple M by the numbers for me. However, seeing him live I have a brand new appreciation for Nollsy. He’s such a showman, the quintessential Aussie larrikin with a great collection of songs that make people smile. Simple. I turned to my husband and said watching Nollsy belt out The Choirboys’ “Run to Paradise” may just be the most Australian thing I’ve ever seen at a gig. And even though he’s probably sung “What About Me?” more times than I’ve had hot dinners, he still put all his heart and soul into it. I was also not so secretly thrilled to see him decked out in double denim, with jeans and a sleeveless vest. I’m not sure he could have chosen a more perfect outfit!

Jon Stevens stood in for an ailing Daryl Braithwaite. I must admit, it took me a little while to warm up to him. In a show like this, you have such a short time with the fans. And let’s face it, as a fill-in act, they’re probably not your fans. So to start slow to a bunch of songs most of us didn’t know seemed an odd choice. All was forgiven once the hits started coming through. As well as the Noiseworks standards there was “Disappear,” an INXS track which reminded me of the very first time I saw Jon, fronting the seminal Aussie rock band. He also paid tribute to Dazza with a stirring cover of “The Horses.” By “Hot Chilli Woman” we were all in ecstasy right along with him.

James Reyne was the act I was most looking forward to, and as always, he didn’t disappoint. I’ve seen him play so many times, but mostly in an acoustic setting. So to hear him electric with a full band was bags of fun. His set was flawless, delivering all of the songs anyone could hope for, from his days with Australian Crawl to his solo successes. What a talent.

John Farnham was the man so many people of Port Macquarie came to see, as is evidence by how quickly the general admission area filled once his set began. It’s a shame that Westport Park doesn’t slope, because any parts that I could see from my comfy camp chair were on the big screens rather than the stage as people gathered in front. John Farnham’s voice is undeniable though. His set brought us hit after hit from his solo career and even his time in Little River Band. “Burn For You” was a poignant highlight, although it would have been nice if the yobbos in front of me could have quit laughing as they hoisted women onto their shoulders and taken a moment to be quiet and listen. It’s all about respect guys, for both the artists and the people around you who want to get lost in the music. My husband and I had to stand for “The Voice” because, well, it seemed unAustralian not to. During it my husband turned to me and said “No Lauren, this is the most Australian thing we’ve ever witnessed as a concert.” As we all sang out the chorus is was hard to disagree. As John came back for an encore I wondered what could be left in his repertoire. Where do you go after “The Voice”? It seems you visit the back catalogue of another legendary Aussie act, AC/DC. “It’s a Long Way to the Top” was the ideal end for this celebration of Aussie talent. I just wondered though, why not make use of the bagpipers you’ve already brought for “The Voice”? It seemed a strange choice.

Before I go, I should make mention of how well run the day was. The staff were exceptional. The personable MC made those moments between acts fly by. While the food and drink vendors didn’t deliver anything too flash, the food was hot and the lines were short. The bar queues didn’t even seem too intimidating, although the decision not to serve wine was a strange one. Special props to the Lions Club who diligently collected our rubbish throughout the day. It’s got to be such a thankless job, but it made the place feel so much nicer.

Port Macquarie is a long way to go for any concert, but the Red Hot Summer tour was definitely worth the trip.

Image source: own photos

With five albums already under his belt, you might assume that Carus Thompson was running out of things to say. However, listening to his new album Island quickly dispels that myth.

Perhaps it’s because Carus hasn’t released an album in five years. Think about your own life and how much you’ve learned in that period of time, and you’ll soon understand why Carus has so many stories to tell. He’s also spent his hiatus working with groups like Headspace, Canteen, and the Australian Children’s Music Foundation. I can hear the way some of the people he encountered during that time has informed his work. Carus has also returned home to Fremantle, to a quieter life with his two children. That sort of move is bound to be good for the soul.

Considering all of those factors, it’s not really surprising that Carus has so much to say with this release. It tackles some deep topics here. He sings so eloquently about the ice epidemic in the single “Bush Fires.” He humanises the plight of refugees on Manus Island in “Reza Barati.” There are themes of isolation and depression that run through.

“Lies” may be the happiest sounding song about betrayal that I’ve ever heard. I love the juxtaposition of this sing-along melody with the cutting lyrics. “Go There With You” is such an honest love song. There are no frills about it; Carus just bears the soul. The delicate “Gone But Not Forgotten” is such a poignant way to end this exceptional album.

Island is so easy to listen to. You could slip it on at your next BBQ and it would add a relaxed atmosphere. But it’s so much richer than just a cruisy acoustic folk album. Tapping into the lyrics you hear so much wisdom and heart. I know I’m going to go back to it at a time when I can just drop everything and really hone in on those words, because I know it’s going to hit me more with every listen.

Island by Carus Thompson is released today. Look out for his live show at the following venues.

12 February 2017 – The Grace Emily, Adelaide (Matinee)
17 February 2017 – Mojos, Fremantle
25 February 2017 – Piping Hot Chicken Shop, Ocean Grove
26 February 2017 – Grampians Festival, Halls Gap
3 March 2017 – Republic Bar, Hobart
4 March 2017 – The Workers Club, Melbourne
5 March 2017 – Newtown Social Club, Sydney
10 March 2017 – The Quarry Ampitheatre, City Beach