Amelia White and Lachlan Bryan
Dont think too much, people is the spoken word snippet that begins the title track of Amelia Whites newest album, The Rhythm of the Rain. Its a flippant warning, a half-joke, a sideways call-to-arms that announces a casual subversion threading through these rollicking 9 songs from the opening explosion of summer sunshine, through the heat of lust and addiction, landing with a glance at politics and fate while the window is still wide open, warm breeze blowing in the late afternoon. Amelia White asks us to not take it all so seriously and, at the same time, shows us how critical it all is: love, fate, death, grief, politics, which isnt surprising considering that White made this record in the four days between her Mothers funeral and her own wedding. The Rhythm of the Rain digs deep. Her well worn smokey pipes deliver a rawness youd expect from mining that liminal space between grief and joy.
2016 was a good year for Amelia White in the UK, where her last full-length release, Home Sweet Hotel, landed some killer reviews, like a top country pick in the Telegraph (along with Buddy Miller, Bonnie Raitt, and John Moreland.) She played Maverick, Summertyne, and Platform festivals, along with a month of club dates. While touring, White stayed in a promoters attic in York, and reading the news from the US began to write, the songs that would make up Rain. That ocean of separation gave her the necessary distance to comment on the shake-up back home without finger pointing, something that White has always done. No judgement, just sharp observations that lead to emotions. Music City Roots host and journalist Craig Havighurst wrote that her songs each have some fascinating crystalline shape that invites close attention and touch. Rhythm of the Rain is a collection of tunes touched by Whites tenure in theUK, where it will be released on Oct. 27th, 2017, (Distribution through Proper Records) as an offering of thanks for feeling embraced just when she needed it.
What separates Amelia White from most other songwriters in the Americana genre is her details. Like a short story writer steeped in the gothic humidity of the backroads, White illuminates the ordinary: dyed black hair and ear ring feathers/shes gotta put three kids through school shes sipping on the sly to keep her cool (Little Cloud Over Little Rock). Boy sat on a bus in the only open seat, mittens in one hand and a backpack at his feet (Said It Like A King). Theres a catchy melodic laziness to her rock and roll, an afternoon drive in the country, the top down, bare legs up on the dash, singing along to your favorite song: When you feel like a sinking sun, youre not the only one, she sings, on Sinking Sun and you can almost taste the freedom of summer adolescence. The light threads through these songs. Sunshine coming through my window/I found something that I wantedyou she sings to a lover in Super Nova, and later the love turns dark in Sugar Baby. As the album winds to a close, White leaves us with the one-two political punch of True or Not? Theres talk in the street that the deal is changing, everybodys on edge, look around and then gently releases us with the hopeful coda, Let The Wind Blow, written with UK darlings, The Worry Dolls. Its a wistful dream: Miles and miles I thought Id found a place to call home and a hand to hold/I put good money on this one, I dont like to be wrong, I dont like to be wrong.
Lifers. Its how we define musicians called to the stage, living life in hotels, and friends spare rooms, playing small and large clubs with sticky-floor stages, and microphones that taste of cigarettes. White has had TV and film placements ( most notably Justified ), record deals, and cuts by some of the finest artists in the Americana world, but for her the success is in the doing, and there is no choice in the matter. She is a rock and roll soothsayer, an East Nashville Cassandra with an Americana gospel shout thicker than the paper-thin illusion of fame and money. Rhythm of the Rain is a late afternoon storm, a sky on the verge of cracking as wide open as Amelia Whites heart.
Blood was spilled on the studio floor, many songs were harmed or even killed in the process of making this album. Pianos were deliberately detuned, expensive guitars were accidentally crushed (and later repaired). Songs were re-recorded because they were "played too well" the first time around, and lyrics were rewritten because they were "not mean enough". We even delayed recording a month because Shaun's bass strings were "too new". There's a song about a cemetery, a trailer-trash midlife crisis, a forty-year romance, a promiscuous girlfriend, a city we like, a pre-apocalyptic cautionary tale and a missing person's report, just to name a few. If our albums are our children, this one's the one that took up smoking at seven years old, got a tattoo at twelve, hacked the high school computer network at fifteen but always remembered to offer a seat to the old lady on the tram and volunteered at the soup kitchen through uni whilst living in a squat and dating the son of a notorious gangland figure. She's quite the contrary one."
Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes
Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes have built their reputation on storytelling. Over the past eight years they have released four records, toured Europe and the USA multiple times, shared stages with Americana and country heavyweights and picked up a string of awards, including the Golden Guitar for alt country album of the year with their landmark release Black Coffee.
But theyve never told stories like the ones on new record Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music. By far the bands most adult work, Some Girls is a country record, but draws as heavily upon the influence of Leonard Cohen and Billy Bragg as it does Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zandt.
Lachlan, at the piano for much of the album, noticed the shift in his own approach as well as that of his collaborators. Were all feeling the weight of being grown-ups now, he explains, and it feels natural to write about grown-up things. The subject matter changed, and it happened without us even noticing it at first.
Opener I hope that Im Wrong sets the tone for the record, a pre-apocalyptic folk-song reflecting on mankinds selfishness and irresponsibility, set against a sparse accompaniment of thumbed acoustic-guitar , bass and a distant, atmospheric telecaster.
Track two, A Portrait of the Artist as a Middle Aged Man, is a scathing attack on an older guy chasing a younger girl which Lachlan describes as inspired by a few people, none of whom set out to do anything wrong, but all of whom spiralled. Sadly its an all-too-common story.
I tried to write that song without judgement, Lachlan explains, but it was hard. This guy, this character, hes floundering. Hes stepped off the edge of civilisation hes running round with someone half his age and hes starting to realise that everything about it is wrong. But by this point hes gone too far, he cant dig himself out now.
Track five, Sweet Bird of Youth, takes a gentler tack and seems far more autobiographical. It also sounds like it belongs in a late night piano bar. I started that song when we were making our first record, and Ive rewritten it four times over the last eight years. I think it makes more sense now than it did when I was in my twenties so Im glad I took my time.
Peace in the Valley, track 9, is perhaps the heaviest of all in terms of content, telling the story of a teenage girl gone missing, from the perspective of her absent father. Lachlan and band have always been good at sounding older than they are, and the slow country waltz of this song helps us to really get inside the head of a flawed family man.
First single The Basics of Love represents a lighter moment on the record a sweet duet with ARIA Winner Shanley Del. It follows the story of a man and a woman whove been around the block a few times, in the tradition of Tom Waits I Never Talk to Strangers.
Other lighter moments include Stolen Again, a cheeky, dobro-driven tale of a much-loved promiscuous girl and the fiddle led, rockabilly-infused It Tears Me Up (Every Time You Turn Me Down). Careless Hearts, track three, is an uplifting celebration of the kind of ragged love and friendship that the band seems to specialise in, and is one of four songs to feature the stellar backing vocal contributions of young singer-songwriter Imogen Clark (including In New York, co-written by Clarks partner and Wildes founding member/bass player Shaun Ryan).
Imogen is one of few outside the band to get a look in on Some Girls, which was produced with the lightest of touch by newest Wilde Damian Cafarella at EoR Studios in Melbourne. John Beddgood of The Wilson Pickers also shows up, playing fiddle on a handful of tracks, whilst James Gillard also contributes a little upright bass and a backing vocal on The Basics of Love.
We really enjoyed leaving the dirt on says Lachlan, we didnt want to round off the edges too much and we always chose the most meaningful take, which is almost never the most musically perfect.
But it seems Lachlan and The Wildes have achieved a different sort of musical perfection the kind that puts the listener in an emotional space from the first to the last bar. Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music is a ragged, poetic, alt-country gem.
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