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cdcov ~ PYRAMIDS ROAD ~ Penny Davies and Roger Ilott

Album Review by Bob Wilson, January 2021

Whatever else this durable Granite Belt folk duo did in 2020, they produced a fine new album - No 22 in a recording career that began in 1983. The title track, Pyramids Road, refers to a road that winds from Penny and Roger’s home near Storm King dam through Girraween National Park to the New England Highway.

This collection of 12 songs includes originals by Penny and Roger as well as covers and collaborations with family and friends. Contributions from local musicians include Andy Wilmott (drums) and Lee Williams (bass guitar). It’s a family affair too, with Penny and Roger’s son Jordy playing Dobro, acoustic guitar and adding backing vocals.

The album starts with a strong protest about the destruction by mining giant Rio Tinto of a sacred site; Juukan Gorge in Western Australia. As the liner notes explain, Juukan Gorge was the only inland site in Australia to show continual human occupation from the last Ice Age.

The song references the words of an Aboriginal elder on radio who described it as a “banner day of sorrow for our people”.

The song starts with an unaccompanied refrain then employs drums and bass and other instrumentation and a dramatic use of minor and major chords in the verses and chorus.

Banners of sorrow, banners of grief, forty-six thousand years blow away like a leaf.

If ever a cultural atrocity needed a protest song, it is this.

Bring Us Stars is the duo’s interpretation of a song by English folksinger Duncan McFarlane. The song uses celestial navigation as a metaphor for “lost souls seeking a way home”.

Australian composer and songwriter John Broomhall has featured often on Penny and Roger’s albums. In this instance, John sent Roger the lyrics to Roll on Old River and Roger set it to music. The lyrics follow the river from its beginning in the mountains down to the plains.

What will it take to get your attention?” is a signature line in What Will it Take, written by Roger’s brother Tony and old school friend John Hannan. A slow blues, this song urges us to do something about climate change before it is too late. It was inspired by Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN.

Counting Quarters is a collaboration between Penny and US songwriter Gordon Bok. Penny visited Gordon and his wife Carol Rohl at their home in Maine in 2015. Penny was inspired to write the lyrics after Carol, a harpist, talked to her about how she was dealing with the after effects of a stroke.

Carol said she was ‘saving her quarters', that is, saving her daily ration of energy to use the next day. Penny wrote the words and sings this song with Gordon Bok, who also played 12-string guitar.

Penny and Roger have developed a familiar harmony sound so it is novel to hear another voice (Gordon) as he and Penny sing the chorus.

She will walk where aspens grow beside the shining waters, she will let the purse strings go and never count her quarters.

Louise Kelly played piano on Shadows and Light (lyrics Penny Davies, music Tony Ilott), a reflection on Penny and Roger’s 44-year relationship, which has included sharing many long walks along country paths and beaches. Penny’s poetic sense shines in the lyrics to this and other original songs.
In the warm light of sunset when seagulls take flight, terns turning homeward are shadows and light.”

Many of the songs on this special album find Penny and Roger reflecting on the lifestyle they have shared on a small landholding in the coldest place in Queensland. Storm King is the head office of Restless Music, which has produced more than 100 albums for artists including Gary Shearston, Bill Scott and John Broomhall. They have also produced recordings for Queensland folkies including Julie McGonigal and Mark Davidson.

These are the songs that spoke to me as I listened, but the whole album is kind to the ears and stands repeated playing. The album Pyramids Road winds its way down to a rendition of the traditional song, Wild Mountain Thyme, recorded in the old time fashion with Penny, Roger, Jordy and Tony grouped around one microphone. You will hear Roger’s 44-year-old Rickenbacker electric 12-string, ringing out on this song and Juukan Gorge.

Roger Ilott’s skills and experience as a sound engineer and multi instrumentalist shine on this album. It’s not an exhaustive list, but he adds vocals, acoustic guitar, electric 12-string guitar, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel and keyboards.

He also pulled together the many strands of an album made in a year when Covid-19 made it difficult to bring people other than family into one studio. This includes importing and mixing home studio tracks from flautist Jemma Armstrong and pianist Louise Kelly.

Like other musicians are finding, it is difficult to tell the world about your new album when gigs are few and far between. After performing there in December, Penny and Roger were booked to perform at Woodfordia’s Bush Time on January 9. Unhappily, the four-day event was cancelled when Brisbane went into a sudden lockdown. The better news is Woodfordia has rescheduled the whole event for Easter 2021, with Penny and Roger performing on Good Friday.

Pyramids Road is available as an MP3 album or a physical CD. When you order the CD, you can choose another from the back catalogue for a total of $20, post-free. That’s what my Canadian brother-in-law would call “a helluva deal”. If you don’t already have them, I recommend Outback Cafe or Just a Bit of Quartz.

Track list: Juukan Gorge, Bring Us Stars, Roll On Old River, Riverina Drover, What Will It Take, Counting Quarters, Pyramids Road, Haul Away, Shadows and Light, Space and Time, Long Time To Say Goodbye, Wild Mountain Thyme.

- Bob Wilson of the Goodwills


cdcov ~ TIME AND TIDE ~ Asleep at the Reel

Album Review by Andrea Baldwin 2021

Asleep at the Reel are songwriter Mark Cryle with Michael Nolan, Suzanne Hibbs and Hugh Curtis. On this eagerly-awaited second album, Time and Tide, the band is ably backed by the talents of Michael Fix, Sarah Calderwood, Peter Harvey and Milton Quackenbush. Beautifully produced by Michael Fix, with cover art and photography by David Symons and Paul Brandon, this CD is a gem to add to your collection – if, like me, you’re still old-school enough to collect CDs!

The title track, Time and Tide, tells the story of an Irish rebel sent to Van Dieman’s Land as a convict, while his spirit remains in Ireland. Several songs on this album feature one of Mark Cryle’s signature techniques, paying homage to well-known Irish song titles: they include Whiskey Songs and The Streets of Irishtown.

The South Sea Island Trade is a slower track with strong traditional melodic sequence and nautical flavor. Fiddle, whistle and darkening bass underline the lyrics as the horror of the song’s subject gradually unfolds. Ghosts of Capricornia, a reflection on colonization in Queensland, addresses a similar subject in a musically different way.

There’s a delightful variety of song topics. In When My Ship Comes In, a gambler revels in fantasies of wealth and status waiting just around the corner – despite the evidence of loss after loss in the real world. Less Than Lovers explores a situation probably familiar to many, in which the protagonists ‘dance between the flicker and the flame’, ‘something less than lovers and more than friends’. With slidey fiddle and graceful jazz-esque guitar, this track is less folkie and more poppy than some of the others, with moments reminiscent of Dire Straits.

Travel and being out of place are favourite themes of Mark’s, which he revisits several times on this trip around the turntable. Midnight in Montreal is a country-leaning number in which an Australian in Canada yearns for his love back home in Brisbane: ‘It’s midnight in Montreal and she’s still on my mind’. In Aberdeen, a young Scotsman yields to romantic tales of sea-faring and gold-prospecting, heading for Australia to make his fortune. Celtic Castaway finds an Irish backpacker singing nostalgic songs, ‘living life in limbo’, sparking the question of what she’s really seeking as she drifts around the world.

Michael Nolan’s voice goes on maturing and growing more nuanced with time, like a fine wine I’ve been listening to this lovely bloke sing for over 30 years, and he just gets better and better). Everyone’s work on this album is consummately tasty: I particularly love the pretty backing vocal on Less Than Lovers, swoopy fiddle on Celtic Castaway, and the folk-rock way fiddle succeeds electric guitar on The Streets of Irishtown. Nice work, Sleepies! (or is that really Reelies?) In any case, a lovely listen for a road trip or a comfortable evening at home.

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