Take Something Beautiful – The Songs of Jesse Younan

by Jenny O’Keefe

In July 2008 Jesse Younan died from acute myeloid leukemia. He was 35 years old and had just released the album ‘A Good Day for a Migraine’ to critical acclaim. Jesse’s voice was strong and his words brilliant, and his death came far too early in a young man’s life.

Now, some notable independent Australian artists have teamed up with Vitamin Records to create a tribute album.

Glenn Wright, director of Vitamin Records, had a chat with Jenny O’Keefe about this release.

Can you tell me a bit about how the idea came about for Take Something Beautiful?

After Jesse passed away, for a long time we struggled with keeping his last release relevant. I found it hard to listen to the album and I think everybody felt deflated.

I gave the album to many musicians and music presenters and one in particular really pushed the songs for placement. Norman Parkhill from Source Music found music placements for Jesse’s music on East of Everything (ABC series) and Packed to the Rafters. He became a fan and suggested we put out an album celebrating Jesse’s music. Now four years on it feels far more appropriate, as many of us who were close to Jesse are returning to his albums and enjoying.

We hope through this album that more people will discover Jesse’s music, and also that it will help those artists that are involved in some way.

How did you go about selecting who would appear on the album, and which songs they would cover? Did the artists decide this amongst themselves?

These artists are all indie acts that were about the same profile as Jesse was when he passed away. They are pretty much all more established now – but back then they would have been contemporaries to Jesse.

Norman wanted the album to have continuity so we had David Symes (Missy Higgins, Sarah Blasko, Jackie Orszaczky) come on as the musical director, producer. The artists invited all had some direct association with Vitamin Records and or Source Music and some, like Lucie Thorne, knew Jesse and were fans. The songs were offered to the artists.

I was reading that you were a close friend of Jesse’s. When we lose someone in our lives the grieving process ebbs and flows over time, with different lessons emerging through the experience. What do you remember most about Jesse as a friend today?

I think we were friends – yes, but more I think we happened to be on the same path and were like-minded. I believed he could be a very accomplished artist and he had chosen my company to work with to get his music out. I really liked the guy and we had some good times – I guess that’s a friend?

What I remember most is that he had huge contradictions. He could look mean and hard yet my three-year-old and six-year-old (at the time) were totally in a spell around him. He didn’t really talk to them much – just smile and make the odd joke – but they just loved being near him. He would play his guitar and they would listen and be calm and be happy. He was staying with us so the children really did love him.

I couldn’t bring up the courage to tell my three-year-old he had died for about 12 months. Eventually she worked it out and it really was a big life lesson for her, losing somebody.

Vitamin as a record label is something quite special. All the CDs in my collection from you guys end up feeling like lovely friends. What is the ethos of the label?

That’s lovely, there is little if any ethos except one of us in the office has to love the music. Sometimes the music is really good but there is no love – so we pass. Music is very personal so I think we have passed on some very good music, but it just wasn’t for us.

Jenny also fired a few questions at some of the artists involved in Take Something Beautiful.

What does it mean to you to be involved in this album, covering the work of Jesse Younan?

“It is an honor and a fabulous privilege to be involved in this project, as I value Jesse’s songs very much, and this feels great that they are being given new life by some great unique Australian voices.” — Jordie Lane

“It’s intimidating to rework someone else’s work, especially when there’s no way for feedback from them, it’s also inspiring to place what you can of your own heart and soul onto someone’s work that has their heart and soul attached.” — M Jack Bee

“I was drawn to the album primarily because the song structure to Blowfly is so different to anything I have ever written, I found it a good challenge to interpret. It felt like a dramatic song that needed dramatic delivery. I liked the idea of keeping the tone fairly dark because it suits the themes. I didn’t know him but it seemed like a worthwhile project to be a part of because he was such a unique talent.” — Abbe May

“I felt very honoured to be asked to be involved with this project. Jesse was a great songwriter and musician and from all accounts an amazing person, so being asked to interpret one of his songs for the album was kind of nerve-wracking.” — Jai Pyne

Did you know Jesse? Can you tell me about your thoughts of him as a man and a musician?

“I did know Jesse, but not well. I remember the first time I met him many years back at The Retreat Hotel in Melbourne. We were on the bill together, and I just remember it really blowing me away. He was intimidating to see at first, but one of those people with a gentleness that overpowers that quickly. A damn good picker of the guitar, and a voice that has lived, that has suffered, that has loved.” — Jordie Lane

“I never met Jesse unfortunately. A former member of our band Tom Hespe was a friend of his and held him in very high esteem as a person, musician and songwriter so I heard a few stories about the man and was exposed to his music through Tom. We actually ended up playing at a tribute show to Jesse shortly after he passed away, we covered ‘Forever’. The songs lend themselves to different interpretations quite fluidly and they still stand up as great songs. I think good tunes will always do this: no matter how you play them – whether it be with layers of instruments or just stripping it back to guitar and vocals, they will still convey a story and Jesse’s songs certainly do this extraordinarily well.” — Jai Pyne

“I met Jesse only once at Peats Ridge Festival in 2006/07, it was brief but behind his dark exterior that day I saw a knowing humour in his eyes. Once I moved to the North Coast I started working with producer Christian Pyle who had spent the last months of Jesse’s life producing ‘A Good Day For A Migraine’. I got to know Jesse in a recorded sense, and got a lot of pretty insane stories from the process of those guys making that record.” — M Jack Bee

Can you tell me about the song you recorded for the album and its meaning?

“I find Road Long Been Travelled darkly uplifting, there’s a knowing that life is short and to forget the bullshit in a really honest way. It didn’t feel forced the way Jesse played it, so I picked up my guitar, learned it and then played it as if it were my own. That’s what the song was saying for me to do in life, so I treated it that way.” — M Jack Bee

“Dave Symes and I went back and forth on the track, the lyrics and how we were going to approach it. We tried to work it so it would suit my voice and my style and sit in with Jesse’s song. I had the track for a while and played around at home on acoustic guitar with it, just trying to get a feel for it.

“Then we just had one session for the bulk of the recording, putting down drums with Jared Underwood and Dave Symes playing bass. I played some atmospheric kinda guitars on it and tried to do the vocal as much justice as possible.

“The meaning of the song [C’est La Vie] is very heavy. My take is that it’s about coming to terms with mortality and resorting to addiction and escapism – drawing a parallel between these things and then also touching on some very intense family things. This was pretty confronting to try to encompass in my voice and our interpretation of the song, but it was really fun working on it with those guys. It was also quite touching to be able to contribute and celebrate Jesse’s song and his person. There was so much of his personality and soul in his work and it’s great to make this into a beautiful thing.” — Jai Pyne

“I was asked to cover Swing. They must have read my mind, ’cause if I had to choose my favorite song it would be that. I was very much pleased to take the direction of producer Dave Symes on the studio. We decided to keep the song fairly true to the original based around guitar and voice.

“I can’t really be the judge of its true meaning, but I do see it as a confessional about the struggle with addiction and life and love.” — Jordie Lane

Take Something Beautiful is out now through Vitamin Records, and will be performed live at Mullumbimby Music Festival 2012, Nov 22-25 

The album features covers by Abbe May, Jordie Lane, Jai Pyne (The Paper Scissors), Jen Cloher, Lucie Thorne, Emily Lubitz (Tinpan Orange), Greg J Walker (Machine Translations), Cameron Potts and Gabby Huber (Dead Letter Chorus) and M Jack Bee.

LIZ STRINGER ‘Warm in the Darkness’

Liz Stringer – ‘Warm in the Darkness’

Review by Alex Morton

Liz Stringer has always been a fiercely independent artist, intent on doing things her own way.

In 2009 she set up in a converted church with a sound engineer, a gifted 8-track recorder, 10 great songs and as many instruments, and singlehandedly played, recorded and released one of the best records of 2010, the largely acoustic Tides of Time.

So how do you ace that?  You put together a core band of longtime cohorts and talented allies – Adam May on drums, Tim Keagan on bass and Van Walker on guitars (and sick licks) – and call on an array of guests such as John Bedggood on keyboards, Matt Walker on lap steel, Suzannah Espie on harmonies, Craig Pilkington and  Adam Simmons on horns, and you head into Craig’s Audrey Studios with another batch of killer songs and make a bloody great rock record. Of course!

Liz’s songwriting gets stronger with each new release – she’s an intriguing lyricist, often leaving as much to the imagination as she gives away – and a great storyteller. Some of her best songs have the feel of mini-novellas or short stories. And her vocals make it all sound true and believable – and she really stretches out on this album, alternately tough and tender, often yearning and always soulful. Things open strongly with In Anybody’s Language, an angry diatribe about recent events in our not so lucky country. In fact there’s not a weak spot on the album – Colourblind sounds like some bastard child of Exile on Main St. and Bob Dylan’s Shot of Love, all fat horns and Matt Walker’s lap steel behind Liz’s tough vocals, and Heart’s Been Trembling sounds like they roped in Keith Richards and Bobby Keys to help out. But things are also sweetened by the southern soul feel of Love Love Love, with its deep soul horn lines, courtesy of Craig Pilkington, and Liz’s harmonizing. And the gorgeous Stay With Me Here could be the greatest ballad that Bonnie Raitt never wrote, featuring a superb, yearning vocal  and Matt Walker’s dobro. Angela and High Open Hills are both classic Stringer, ..Hills especially a perfect crash-course in narrative songwriting, and great examples of Liz’s innate musicality. As is the mysterious Glutton, one of my favourite tracks on a record full of favourites. The title track winds things up in great style, with the band echoing The E-Street Band and reminding us, like all great rock albums, of the redemptive power of rock and roll.

So – many influences at work here, but the aptly titled Warm In The Darkness is all about inspiration rather than imitation, and a major achievement from one of our true originals. And if you want to hear how good this album really sounds, crank it up and play it loud. Loud and proud!

(If you haven’t heard all or any of Liz Stringer’s previous 3 albums you should, as the man says, do yourself a favour. There’s not a dud moment on any of ‘em and they’re all available from her website or any independent record store worth its salt.)

Reviewed and endorsed by Alex Morton!

The Melbourne album launch takes place
Sunday 10th June – Corner Hotel
Tix available here

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THE STETSON FAMILY ‘The Devil in His Sunday Best’

Reviewed by Alex Morton

Damn but I love good handclaps. And banjos. And Nad Budge’s voice. So when I stuck the brand new Stetson Family album in the player and all of the above came flying out of the speakers, one after the other, I got a bit excited. And around 38 minutes and 11 great songs later I was grinning like a fool.

The Stetsons play progressive bluegrass with a healthy dose of country and folk-influenced music, and like Pennsylvanians Jim and Jennie & The Pinetops, they maintain a respect for the traditions of the genre without being constrained by them.

Anchored by Nadine Budge’s vocals, dobro, and considerable songwriting talents, the Stetson Family also features John Bartholomeusz , who contributes several great songs and on-the-button acoustic guitar leads; Colin Swan and Andrew Carswell play banjo and mandolin respectively, and Luke Richardson holds it all down with the bull-fiddle.

One of the real strengths of this album is the strength of the songs – all originals with the exception of Jean Ritchie’s classic tale of economics catching up with traditional mining – “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” (nicely juxtaposed by John and Colin’s narrative “Smokey Valley”) and Nad’s old partner-in- crime Marni Sheehan’s gorgeous and heartfelt “Devil Call Your Name”. Highlights include “Oh Winding River”, an elegiac classic with guest vocals by co-writer Tracey McNeil, a reminder of what a great singer (and writer) she truly is. And harmonies? Listen to the outro, with the whole band and  guests singing loud and proud, all air and breath, perfect unison –it’s a great moment. And Nadine proves herself the equal of anyone when it comes to heartbreaking honesty with “Traces Of You” – “there’s traces of you in every corner I turn/And you’re there in the ashes of every bridge that I’ve burned.” It sounds like the best song that Mary Gauthier never wrote. And like a true mandolin player, Andrew Carswell nails “Every Dusty Road.” “Old Black Canoe” keeps coming back to haunt me – is it the six white horses, or the long black Cadillac, the harbingers of our time on this earth? Whatever, it’s a great and very affecting song! And of course Nadine takes it out in irreverent style with “Dirty Rotten Lowdown Cheatin’ Sonofabitch”.

So there’s no flashy trends or fancy hats here (some very nice shirts though!) – just a great set of songs played with great feel and great honesty by a bunch of people who are obviously joined by the sheer joy and love of making good music together.

The Stetson Family album launch is this Sunday 23rd October at the Penny Black, Brunswick 4pm $10

SNOOKS LA VIE ‘Another Place In Time’

Reviewed by Jenny O’Keefe

On first listen to this new independent offering out of Adelaide, I got that itchy brain feeling. Where have I heard this dude before? Turns out in another life a decade ago, Snooks La Vie headed up a rootsy soul band The Hiptones, as well as The Deliverymen. Heaps of gongs, awards and success have enriched La Vie’s sound and placed him on a slightly different folky alt-country path. He’s even sporting a grouse flannie and straw hat on the cover. Authentico!

Rhythmically sweet and vocally compelling, “Another Place In Time” is a worthy addition to lovers of the genre. The album was produced by Northside music royalty Charles Jenkins, who also guests on a few tracks, adding some flavour to a well-balanced solo effort.  Included in this lovely collection of eleven tunes is a tribute to the storytelling prowess of Townes Van Zandt, with all tunes penned by La Vie. The labour of love feeling oozes from every note, and pleasingly so.

File under: Confidently delivered yearning and ace blues harp.

Check them out here

Melbourne shows coming up…

Wed Nov 9

The Standard Hotel
293 Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy
(Duo) with Nik Kipridis
Free Entry.

Friday Nov 11
The Penny Black
420 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Snooks La Vie & The Backwoods Creatures + support Tracy
McNeil & Luke Sinclair
Free Entry.

Saturday Nov 12
Oscar’s Alehouse
7 Bayview Road, Belgrave
(Duo) with Nik Kipridis
Free Entry.

Sunday Nov 13
The Drunken Poet
65 Peel Street, West Melbourne
(Duo) with Nik Kipridis
Free Entry.

LUCIE THORNE ‘Bonfires in Silver City’

Reviewed by Marlo Spikin

  “And lean a little closer
To all those songs I play
Yeah I’ll keep singing ‘til the sun comes up
However far away”

So Lucie Thorne croons on the song ‘Big News’ from her sixth and latest independent release, ‘Bonfires in Silver City’. The astonishing reward for her listeners is that this one song is just one glimmering flame within an exquisite bonfire.  The ten songs, including one duet and one instrumental guitar track, are irresistibly cohesive and flow into each other beautifully.  And we lean close to her bonfire until the sun comes up.

Leaning closer to Lucie’s sublime voice…  a voice that has a melting power – breathy, luscious, languid like honey and as striking as the sunrise.  Coupled with her distinct guitar playing, Lucie paints delicately her tales of love and life.  The opening track is ‘Falling’, a love song as only Lucie could express it.  A lullaby that makes falling, oh so quietly, with her, very easy:

“It’s sure some kind of spell
I’m under
Here I am, falling, all over again
It’s your name I’ve been calling”

And so from these first flames, ‘Bonfires In Silver City’ casts a spell.  The album is one unified gesture of grace and awareness.  The great groove of track two, ‘Till The Season’, paints her awareness to gorgeous encouraging effect: “If it’s growing it won’t ripen ‘til its season’s here”.  And the album grows and flows inspiringly all the way to the graceful closing-album declaration “You know you’ll always be with me” in ‘When I Get There’.

Lucie’s emotive guitar playing is the strong spine that her tender, self-aware lyrics breathe from.  Her two minute long solo guitar track, ‘Correspondent’, rests in the middle of the album, and perfectly as a bridge between two melancholy songs.  ‘Great Wave’, a mature reprise from its original release on 2006’s ‘Where Night Birds Call’, begins quietly with not one too many notes being struck as she tells us:

“The colours bleed out from the hills
The hills turn black across the field
It’s a great wave that’s coming down”

Her guitars rise and heighten this chorus refrain as the song grows and then fades.  And then we are soothed by the gentleness of ‘Correspondent’.  The following ‘Already Gone’ is a break-up song, “I stand here watching the sky turn black” and here we feel one of Lucie’s strongest song-writing traits: her emotions are expressed courageously and unadorned.

The kindred spirit of Lucie’s delicate and definite song craft is renowned drummer and percussionist Hamish Stuart.  His energy is compelling throughout, and it is their mutual respect that enables his beats and flourishes to brilliantly fan her flames without ever threatening to engulf them.  Lucie is also accompanied very finely by a handful of stellar musicians – Dave Symes’ electric bass and Carl Dewhurst’s guitar on a few tracks honour Lucie’s style, while Chris Abrahams’ piano on ‘Noir’ helps this song to feel revelatory.  Simplistically, ‘Noir’ could be described as “another break-up song” but Chris’ sensitive keys bring colour to Lucie’s integrity.  Another truly rewarding collaboration is ‘Sweet Turnaround’, co-written with the soulful Jo Jo Smith.  The essence is again encouraging, honest and wise:

 “Let it burn so bright that you can’t deny
Let the lightning strike at your wondering whys
Come on let it take you
By surprise”

Let Lucie take you to her exquisite bonfire, and lean close until the sun comes up.  And, keep listening into the clear day too.

Thursday 29 September
Bella Union at Trades Hall, Melbourne
plus special guest Jo Jo Smith
Tickets: $17/$12 + bf presale, $20/$15 at the door
on sale now!

JORDIE LANE ‘Blood Thinner’

Reviewed by Jenny O’Keefe

A lot of artists plonk the words “eagerly anticipated” in their own press these days about upcoming releases. In the case of Jordie Lane’s latest long-playing album, truer words have rarely been spoken. The previous offering Sleeping Patterns was a masterpiece that was thoughtfully delivered and caused quite a stir around the traps.

You can almost hear the collective breath being held around Melbourne as Blood Thinner waits patiently to join the quality releases on the shelves on July 15. My friends, let me assure you that the wait is worth it – and then some.

There’s a familiarity to this work that defies explanation. Yes, it is all new material, but with the warmth of a well-worn favourite returned to time and time again. “You’ve got to hear this…” people will calmly negotiate on road trips, in kitchens, through mixed tapes and thoughtful gifting.

Blood Thinner tells tales all the best musicians tell – love, hope, heartache and medication – with an emphasis on lo-fi delivery. Lane used only what was at his disposal whilst travelling around the USA, recording on a 4-track machine to cassette tapes in motel rooms, garages and basements.

All instruments and vocals are performed by Lane, and there’s something about the way he does it that catches me every time. That wonderful sad excitement in the throat, in the gut, makes for a very fine album.

Catch Jordie Lane on the Blood Thinner Album Launch Tour – dates and info here

 

WAGONS ‘Rumble, Shake and Tumble’

Reviewed by Marlo Spikin

Wagons’ lead man Henry Wagons freely admits that this album, their fifth studio album, has been birthed from turbulent times: “I’ve been shaken around and bruised, but in the best possible way.”  And Wagons are, of course, a formidable collective and their rumblin’ music is very robust, and there is absolutely no doubt that us listeners will catch them as they tumble!  So fearlessness resounds.

The late-album gem ‘Life’s Too Short’ croons and whistles this perfectly:

“Let it sink in
Have a thick skin
And if it don’t work out
Let those tears dry out
Because life is too too too short”

Exactly.  And at 37 minutes, this album is amazingly not too short.  Their shaking is vast and their rumblin’ and tumblin’ is full-bodied.  Spearheaded by Henry’s muscular voice and fleshed out by backing vocals from half of the all-man line-up, this is outlaw country rock that will have you stomping along with them in an act of resilience.  The sing-songy ‘Save Me’ will leave you lost in the forest with them, with much glee actually.

‘Follow The Leader’ is another distinct moment within the album.  The chorus is assured in inspiring independence but is still not afraid to descend into a damning, aural pit of swirling guitars and guttural wailing.  And it’s a really interesting direction to follow!

The opening tracks ‘Down Low’ and ‘I Blew It’ pulse with a defiance and an earthiness, and Si Francis’ cowbell percussion on the shoulder-shrugging ‘I Blew It’ is brilliant, as is Richard Blaze’ guitar solo.  And the celebration of heroic Willie Nelson is fun and funny as they say:

“Why don’t we tell these guys something special about Willie Nelson?
He likes some salt and pepper with his evening meal”

Contrasting this is the much heart-felt ‘My Daydreams’.  The acoustic guitar intro prepares you for the gentle swell, and carries you through.  Beautiful.  The Wagons’ characteristic honesty about the tumbles of life is a pleasure to listen to.  The blazing ‘Moon Into The Sun’ heralds stunning guitar and an effective, yet modest, percussive lifeline.  Their song-writing is at great heights here, their reach for the positive is inspiring.  There is bravery, while sincerely pleading:

“I need you now like I’ve never needed anyone”

‘Rumble, Shake and Tumble’ has a dark peak right in its middle and it is the searing ‘Love Is Burning’.  The refrain “sizzling, crackling, smoking, fizzling” rings true with voices so deep and fierce they sound like they are coming directly from their stomping, steaming, steel-capped boots!

Yes, fearless.

Check out the new album for yourself here and make sure to get along to Forum Theatre, Melbourne on Saturday 16th July.