CD Review by Ian Dearden
This review is written in the aftermath of the tragic loss of 29 miner’s lives at Greymouth, New Zealand – a stark reminder, as if we needed one, that coalmining is a dirty and dangerous business.
The Illawarra district was the locale of two mining disasters just over twenty years apart – the Bulli Explosion in 1887 when 81 men and boys perished, and the Mt Kembla Disaster which saw 96 men and boys lose their lives.
Beneath Black Skies is a 2009 documentary from Illawarra’s Why Documentaries video production company, which sets out to tell the stories of these hardy south coast miners – by all accounts a tough and bolshie lot.
The soundtrack helps bring those stories to life.
Featuring the composing, arranging, singing and pianistic talents of Judy Stubbs, the music combines arrangements of traditional songs and tunes (Allowrie, Botany Bay, Water is Wide, Black Leg Miner, The Old Miner) with original tunes and songs, some recast in various guises, no doubt to fit the director’s requirements.
Judy Stubbs has pulled together an exceptional team of talented singers and musicians – the exquisite and virtuosic cello of Rita Woolhouse, the evocative whistle playing of Johnny Spillane, the flute and piccolo of James Gibson, with solo vocals from Judy Stubbs herself, Nicole Murphy and Thomas Storer, as well as massed singing from the Elektika Vocal Ensemble.
Of particular note (no pun intended) is Judy Stubb’s piano playing throughout the album – rich, warm, elegant and superbly recorded, thanks no doubt to the engineering talents of Robbie Specogna at Wollongong’s Main Street Studios.
As a soundtrack album it is, by definition, programmatic, so don’t expect to hear an album of “folk songs”, although many of the pieces are arrangements of, or draw from the well of folk songs and tunes.
What this album does leave you with is a real sense of time, place and emotion, in one of the toughest industries under the earth.
You can find out more about the documentary and the soundtrack, at www.beneathblackskies.com.au.
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