Before you groan, I promise I won’t drop any more Australian clichés. And tonight at the show, I resisted the temptation to lapse into an Aussie accent. What is it about talking to Australians that makes you sort of want to be one? They’re wildly proud of their country, and it’s so United States-ish in its breadth and indie spirit that for sure, in the immortal words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there.
A contingent of some 30-40 Australian musicians came to town for the Americana Music Association conference and festival, which wrapped up on Sunday. Many are still here, so we had four artists plus their musical colleagues filling out our bill at the Loveless last night. It was deep and diverse and solidly dedicated to country music’s various strains.
James Blundell (pronounced BLUN-del) launched us with a spare set in a duo with his wife, about whom he had a remarkable story. He told us he was playing a gig in a rough Australian mining town, when he saw a blonde in a red dress singing along with his songs. He dared her to get on stage. She did. Now they have a new baby on tour with them. This from a leather-complexioned handsome bald guy with broad shoulders who really did grow up ranching and working on a big western Australia farm. His voice was mighty and mellow, with a little vibrato and a lot of passion. His “Postcard From Saigon” had patriotic and protest streaks side by side; it’s his anthem for the POW/MIA cause, which he’s bolstered. He concluded with “Vincent Black Lightning,” Richard Thompson’s masterpiece, and the split verses into duet choruses with his wife/singer were an inspired touch.
Next was the sunny and wispy Ange (rhymes with flange) Boxall, one of those gals who smiles while she sings while giving off a glow of authentic happiness. Her pal and ours, artist Shannon Wright who visited backstage, assured me that it’s all very real. Ange’s song “Fireflies” was glimmery. She did “Loving Between The Lines” with Jim Lauderdale, who appears on her new album. It was a really fine five-song set.
With Catherine Britt, I had a lot of anticipation and questions. Last I heard from her she was signed to a Nashville country deal with Sony/BMG, with the endorsement of Elton John. But she proved tonight that whatever happened in those days, she must have been way too cool and country for FM radio. Britt has one of the brashest country singer voices around, and it’s no surprise that she goes way back with the great Kasey Chambers, the Aussie Americana star. Her voice sounds quite similar actually, and Britt even had Kasey’s dad Bill, a Down Under country/folk legend, on guitar. He nailed a Tele solo on “That Don’t Bother Me,” a twangy country bouncer with Britt sing/hollering about being a “hillbilly girl in a hillbilly world.” Her self-penned “Elsie Jones” was a spooky hard country murder ballad, with a duo vocal with Bill worthy of the Louvin Brothers. She’s having hits and being a big deal in Australia, so boo to mainstream country, and I’ll keep watching for her to visit America again.
The night’s capper came from the bright and bubbly married duo of Mark and Jay O’Shea. They have strong pop songwriting instincts, but the set also felt folky and breezy. “Smash” is an extended metaphor that compares young love to a hit record. “Amen” was a large country ballad with icy dobro from Smith Curry. Their vocals certainly sound like family together, but they opted to end the set with the spotlight on Jay, who sang “Empty,” a melancholy Stax-inspired soul song. I wish they’d been more assertive on the Loveless Jam take on “Jackson.” Jim and Ange anchored the vocals, but heavens, the married people didn’t get to sing about a stressed out marriage! That’s what the people want to see. Anyway, it was righteous and rootsy, a good time all night. As Jim would say, “now THAT’s Australiana!”