Ka-Ching…with Twang: Country Down Under

Australia, along with New Zealand, host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, and I think they’ll win it. They also love their country music down there and a steady slew of artists have headed to Nashville from Oz.

Recently I’ve written about Blake O’Connor and Tamara Stewart. Blake has outgrown Australia and is headed to Nashville with his partner Sinead Burgess (to whom I once chatted at the merch table after she supported Paul Young here in Watford!). I wish Blake all the best as he joins Tamara as a permanent Nashville resident.

He also joins Morgan Evans at the party, and perhaps Blake, as Morgan was, will be quickly snapped up by a major label. Kiss Somebody was the smash from Morgan’s debut album Things That We Drink To, which he has followed up with a series of standalone tracks including an EP. That 2021 collection included Love Is Real and the chirpy Country Outta My Girl, which was also released as a collaboration with Weezer.

Unfortunately, his well-documented divorce means that his girl is now out of his life. Break-up song Over For You deservingly went around the world and appears on his new five-track EP Life Upside Down in both the studio version and the one that was sung onstage in Melbourne.

On My Own Again is a toe-tapping driving song which puts a positive spin on breaking up, with ‘a suitcase and tequila’ riding shotgun instead of his lady and with no fixed destination. I wonder if he’s driving the American Dream Truck which he sang about on his 2021 EP.

Hey Little Mama is a summer jam that begins with a funky lick and has Morgan’s narrator dancing in the rain with a lady who helps him make ‘lemons…into lemonade’. Morgan played All Right Here at his London gig last July, reviewed here, mere days before his split was public knowledge. It’s a Kenny Chesney-type song full of positivity and a reference to ‘flip-cup sippers’ which, much like its singer, is impossible to dislike. Having played Country2Country2023, he’ll be back in Blighty soon enough.

Coming in June to the Field of Avalon Stage at Glastonbury is Fanny Lumsden, who is preparing to release her fourth album and is primed to break into the UK market after making some connections over her summer. Fans of chugging guitars and windows-down choruses will love Millionaire, which is a driving song about her first car.

Fanny grew up on a farm in Tallimba, a small village which made its own entertainment. Today, she is her own small trader, running her career alongside her husband. For the last decade she has hosted a Country Halls Tour across Australia with her band The Prawn Stars, raising money for various small communities who call Fanny and book her in for a totally free ‘all-in community night out’. For many people this show is their first experience of live music.

This year Fanny has already been to the Tamworth festival and the Adelaide Fringe, the latter with her Fanny Tales show, playing songs from her third album Fallow which came out in 2020. As well as putting out a complementary album of ‘variations’, she also put together a documentary about Fallow, linking its creation to the horrendous bushfires that hit the country.

Her catalogue includes the tremendously catchy and memorable Elastic Waistband, plus a song that seems to fit in with the Australian policy on men’s discussion groups called Real Men Don’t Cry (‘I declare a war on pride’). Both are on her 2017 release Real Class Act, which would fit well next to songs by KT Tunstall. The title of the song Peed In The Pool certainly draws the listener in, and it is placed in between two elegant melodies on Fallow: This Too Shall Pass and Grown Ups, on which she sings in the voice of a young child asking ‘Is it up to us now to carry on?’

This is a smart way of writing songs given that they are meant to be performed live in front of audiences of all ages. ‘Take up the space cos this time is yours’ is the key line in Fierce, while Dig (‘a little deeper’) is another song for an audience member to take away and sing to themselves. This is participatory music with sometimes veers into self-help.

The Wolfe Brothers, Nick and Tom, are from Hobart, Tasmania, making them one of the most Southern of rock bands. They’re in the family business, following their fiddler great-grandpa, saxophonist grandpa and drumming dad into music. Like Carrie Underwood and Drake Milligan, they came to attention via a TV talent show, in their case Australia’s Got Talent; their audition clip, where they performed their funky original song One Way State of Mind, is still online and shows that they already had star quality. Lee Kernaghan, the grandfather of Aussie Country, took them under his wing and they’ve been his opening act since then.

Their sixth album Livin’ the Dream (with no G!!) brings in some top Nashville writers. The hot-right-now Stephen Wilson Jr helped them write the understated More To It, which ticks items off the rural checklist but still says small towns aren’t just what you put ‘in a three-minute country song’. Lindsay Ell co-wrote Love Like That and The Shires appear on it: its nagging melody will be in your head for days as will the line ‘I will set the world on fire just to keep you warm’.

JT Hodges was in the room for the All In Good Time, which both namechecks and sounds like The Rolling Stones, and James T Slater brings his wisdom to She’s My Rock, She’s My Roll which unites Nashville and Australia, country and rock’n’roll: ‘Met her at a dive bar in Austin, I played her a Waylon song, she said play me some AC/DC’. There are some participatory woahs as well.

Power ballads Put The House On It (‘girl I ain’t a gamblin’ man but you can bet I do everything I can’) and Here’s To The Ones say nothing new but they do say it tunefully. New Dog Old Tricks is an addition to the Country Dog Song genre, as the narrator wants to ‘slow down time’ and is accompanied by harmonica and dobro. The fluffy Diamond in a Dive Bar is yet another one of those meet-cute songs, and Sundown Somewhere another lament for lost love, but you have to tick these songs off on a country album.

A lot of this album reminds me of the hooky warmth of Aaron Watson. Empty Pockets is one such track, where the duo consider the end of their lives and conclude that they should ‘spend every dollar and love with all I have because’ – and this we know – ‘you can’t take it with you when you go’. The bouncy title track is as rural as it comes, with John Deere trucks, deer ‘in your sights’ and how ‘it don’t take much to have everything’. Nothing Better To Me is a song of contentment with a pleasant rock arrangement that also sounds content in itself, confidently changing key for a few bars in the middle of it.

Country music down under has a lot going for it and we’d love to have more Aussies coming over here. I haven’t mentioned recent émigré Kylie Price, who has relocated here from New Zealand, but do catch her digital dexterity (she’s won awards for her guitar playing) and terrific songs if you see her name on a line-up.

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