Despite the headline to this post that I stole from Fitzroy Xpress, I’m really not much of a country music fan. This puts large chunks of contemporary Indigenous music if not out of reach, at least on the far end of the audible spectrum for me. But I’d caught a couple of clips from the 2010 Deadlys on YouTube and decided that I’d take a chance on the new Adam James album, Children of the Sunrise. I’m glad I did.
I suspect part of my positive reaction can be attributed to the fact that Children isn’t really your standard country album. It’s got the flavor, for sure, but judging from the samples I’ve heard from his first outing, Messages and Memories, the second release is a major move toward the mainstream pop audience. It opens with an upbeat anthem, “Freedom Now Begins,” that promises wholesome happiness on the road. It’s not life on the run, just escape from the office in the company of family (“Gonna take my wife, take my daughter, head down south, take break by the water….”) Adam James isn’t an outlaw, he’s a family man.
In fact, when I first listened to the album, I kept getting taken back to early 70’s James Taylor, that period when he’d kicked the blues of Sweet Baby James and learned to smile. Close your eyes and let the music drift by and you can hear the similarity in the two men’s voices; Adam James is a little smoother around the edges but the timbre is somehow the same.
James is a sentimentalist of the first order, as the title (and title track) of Children of the Sunrise suggests. He reprises a track from Messages and Memories here, the paean to his parents’ marriage, “Who’s Counting Anyway?” that has the potential to be a real country classic: “every year they celebrate in May/another one today/they say/who’s counting anyway?” “How Long” evokes a little Texas swing, and even quotes Dean Martin. The album’s easy going and light-hearted, even when James brushes up against heartbreak. Check out the goofy, cheerful antics of the band in the video for “Freedom Now Begins”; I’m betting the album will be a big seller this Christmas season.
James has appeared in the past at the Dreaming Festival and is set for the Woodford Folk Festival at the end of the year, and in that he has something in common with the Iwantja Band, though in every other respect the boy from Moreton Bay and the band from Indulkana in the APY lands could hardly be more different.
I’d been meaning to check out the Iwantja Band on MySpace for a few weeks when Robbo over at BitingTheDust put up a video clip from their gig at the Yarnballa Festival a couple of years ago. I was hooked.
The band’s bio at MySpace says that “their style is a bit of a mix of Gary Moore and Steve Morse or Joe Satriani with an Aboriginal influence.” But the first thing I thought on hearing them was the spiraling guitar riffs that Mark Knopfler spins for Dire Straits. (I don’t know why my brain is stuck in the 70s this week.) The double lead guitars that feature in this video, though, plant these guys in the Guitar Hall of Fame without a doubt.
From the CAAMA website I learned that the Iwantja Band headlined at the 25th Anniversary of the Hand Back concert at Uluru back in October. Their persistence on the festival circuit is paying off, for the band is now in Melbourne to do the final mixing for their first album. It’s set to be released on January 26 next year, appropriately, at the Survival Day Spirit Festival.
I’ll be curious to hear what that album sounds like, as the band has undergone some major changes over the years. The early work has a metal edge to it, sweetened by the extraordinary guitar work of leader Jeremy Whiskey, as on “Crazy Mind,” the tune in the video above. They can do classic blues (“My Baby Left Me”). And sometimes they can defy classification: “Will She Love Me Tomorrow” starts off with a jazzy tease and builds quickly into fuzz-heavy exercise in rock ‘n’ roll pyrotechnics; the rhythm section stays relaxed, and the tune slips back and forth between the two modes easily and unexpectedly for its four minutes.
Later tracks on the MySpace listings feature Yolngu songman and former Redsand Band frontman Stewart Gaykamangu on vocals. Geoffrey Baker’s bass lines have taken on a new bounce, and there’s a pronounced reggae lilt to the new tunes like “Kungka Kutju.” Gaykamangu sounds a lot like his cousin Gurrumul, and these desert boys now have a decided saltwater feel to their sound.