Review by Ian Dearden
I have been following on Facebook for some time with enormous interest the saga of this extraordinary and magisterial undertaking by Chloe & Jason Roweth – to record and release a comprehensive overview of Australia’s wonderful contributions to the shearing song genre. Imagine my delight when this gem – volume 1 of a potentially neverending series of albums – hit my letter box the other day!!
Chloe and Jason, both gifted, talented singers and multi-instrumentalists, have, as a duo, and as part of larger ensembles, devoted the past twenty years to researching, recording and presenting Australian bush songs. This current project finds them applying their formidable skills to shearing songs, of which, it would seem, there are too bloody many!! The album contains 14 songs, 4 poems, and 6 dance tunes – the spoken word contributions all featuring sympathetic (but not distracting) instrumental backings.
Volume 1 features a number of well-known songs, often with slightly unfamiliar settings or lyric variants (Click Go The Shears, Jog Along ‘Til Shearing, Shearer’s Song, The Big Gun Shearer, One Of The ‘Have Beens’, The Springtime It brings On The Shearing), together with a swag of songs that are unfamiliar, to me at least. These include The Shearer, Goorianawa, Shearing, Shearing, Shearing, The Sheep-Washer’s Lament, The Mad Sheep Rep and The Shearer’s Jamboree).
And so to the performances!! Chloe and Jason have a delightful but respectful approach to the tradition – they sing in Australian ‘voices’, but without affectation, the songs are predominantly arranged with an emphasis on acoustic instrumentation, but with tasty electric and bass guitar playing, and they sound like they’re enjoying themselves!! Particular mention should be made of the kit drum playing of Bill Browne, who features throughout the album. It’s not always easy, as a drummer, to know how to approach bush songs. Some drummers have difficulty in shaking off their “rock god” chops, and overplay – others never manage to fit the square peg of kit drums to the rhythm demands of these songs. Bill hits the sweet spot, in my view, sympathetic but not overbearing; always keeping the pulse, but not working too hard or sounding too busy, often using brushes to great effect. Notable contributions from John Harpley (concertina, whistle, vocals), Bob Willis (button accordion, concertina, vocals) and Olya Willis (piano accordion) should also be noted.
Primarily, however, this album is a tribute to the instrumental as well as the vocal skills of Chloe and Jason, who between them play acoustic, electric, tenor and bass guitars, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, banjolin, violin and percussion!! They also recorded and mixed the album, at home, (while simultaneously dealing with the demands of two energetic young children), with mastering by Andy Busuttil and Greg Seiler at Blue Mountain Sound.
If it’s not obvious already, it should be – I consider this album to be a tour de force, a magnificent and authentic contribution to the Australian bush music tradition, proving beyond a shadow of doubt that this is living, breathing, riproaring music of which we should all be proud, whether or not we live in cities (as I now do), or live in the country (as I once did). It speaks to all of us, and I applaud Chloe and Jason for their patience, dedication, meticulous research (great artwork and liner notes, BTW) and above all their passion. More volumes to come, I trust!! I loved this album!!