I am always interested in hearing how other musicians interpret the Australian tradition, and contemporary songs written in that folk idiom.
Let me say from the outset of this review that I do not believe there is a right or wrong way to approach the performance of folk song. Decades of listening to bush bands and solo artists singing (mostly predictably about shearers, bushrangers and drovers) has taught me to keep an open mind, however, I still find myself looking for that little bit extra in three critical areas: song selection, individuality of sound and, most importantly, a salute to the tradition.
Collector, in this case the group’s name and the title of the album, has a good track record and this new offering, their second album, sits well with my three main criteria. The selection is certainly fresh with eleven very interesting, culturally-relevant tracks totally 65 minutes of music. Individuality – yes, Collector have their own sound and it sits very comfortably with the material that ranges from their interpretation of several old dance tunes, old and some not so old ballads (that’s if, like me, the 1950s only seem like yesterday). And, as far as saluting the tradition that carried this material into the current century – Collector has done it proud.
After recording my recent ten CD set ‘Australia: Its Folk Songs & Bush Verse’ I thought I’d covered most of the Australian bush repertoire but here comes Collector and proves me wrong – of the ten traditional songs here I had only included three (‘Female Rambling Sailor’, ‘Banks of the Condamine’ and ‘Norman Brown’) on my collection. The seven remaining songs are worthy of mention. Year’s ago West Australia’s Bob Rummery enthused to me about the poetry of Tom ‘Crosscut’ Wilson (1865-1925) and I put them in my file for ‘future reference’; it was a real surprise to hear his ‘A Man Was Killed In The Mine Today’ – I’ll have to dig out my copy of Tom’s The Boulder Block to see what other gems lie waiting to be rediscovered.
There’s three bushranging ballads on offer, ‘Those Bold Bushrangers’, ‘Farewell to Greta’ and ‘My Name is Ben Hall’ – what can I say – these songs are old and rare but absolutely given life by the group’s sensitive rendition. It’s so heartening to hear two bushranging songs that have never been recorded before and I will be nicking the eccentric ‘Those Bold Bushrangers’ for my repertoire! Helen Palmer and Doreen Bridges’s 1950’s anthem, ‘Ballad of 1891’, has been recorded several times before but for my money this is a version that should carry it for several more years.
Then there’s the bush dance tunes. I think my group The Larrikins, especially in its early manifestations, played an important role in treating the old dance tunes with respect, particularly in so far as tempo was concerned, and Collector appear to now carry that mantle. The mazurkas, schottisches, reels and jigs are not only well-tempered but extremely emotive conjuring up the stately ambience of yesterday’s dance floors which, despite the frantic interpretation of most bush bands, was usually relatively sedate.
In truth I have never seen myself as a ‘real’ singer. If anything, I am a social historian who sings and mostly interprets bush songs. I know I am privileged in being able to interpret these traditional songs, and extremely happy to discover other people sharing the same journey – oh that there were a hell of a lot more! That said, Chloe and Jason are accomplished singers and musicians, sensitive to the tradition, and, Halleluiah, they have gathered four similarly sympathetic musicians in Roger Hargraves (vocals, fiddle, bouzouki, banjo), Jason Neville (bass), Jim McWhinner (bodhran) and Bill Browne (kit drums). You might have just read that list of instruments and thought – “What the hell! Kit Drum! Bouzouki! and bass! Yikes!” – let me say, “Get over it!” This works and if we are to see these old songs and stories and tunes travel with us into the 21st century this is exactly what we need. I was particularly delighted to hear two songs with two parts sung as storytelling – ‘Banks of the Condamine’ and ‘Farewell to Greta’ work well as the two voices, in this case Chloe and Jason, relate the stories in song.
I have a couple of niggly issues with the CD booklet – I think they could have come up with a smarter title than ‘self titled’ and, from an information perspective, I always want a CD label serial number for reference purposes. I also found it confusing as to who is actually singing since no one is specified in the accompanying generally attractive and informative booklet. But, as I said, these are petty criticisms of an album that I found extremely satisfying.
If you care about our disappearing Australian cultural expressions, especially our musical traditions, buy this album.