Steve Tyson’s 4th album Banjo’s Last Ride, recorded with his touring band The Train Rex.
“In the past few years there has been much to enjoy in the later work of Australian songwriters such Russell Morris, Glenn Cardier and Joe Camilleri.
With Banjo’s Last Ride, Tyson delivers an album of powerful, passionate songcraft that is just as worthy of your time” (Noel Mengel)
CD review by Noel Mengel
TN2504-76 – $20
TN158 Oct 23
A storyteller’s eyes and ears are always open.
You never know what might provide the spark for a song: an overheard conversation, a story from history or an excruciating encounter with the grinding wheels of big business.
The more experienced the writer, if they are any good, the sharper the eye for the telling detail or an interesting character with a story that resonates.
And there is no shortage of fuel for Byron Bay-based songwriter Tyson and this latest album with his band The Train Rex.
The observations in his songwriting are vivid and these mostly folk-meets rock musical settings are focused and energetic.
At a time when most of our travelling has been done in our heads, some of these songs are reminders of a different life.
Many of us have a ‘Gare Du Nord’ story, even if not as on the brink as the one of the pair of lovers in the song of that title.
This tale from the platform of the bustling Paris train station is as finely balanced as the tension from Tyson’s dobro guitar in this soul blues groove.
Australian songwriters from John Schumann to Fred Smith have written with clarity about the damage of war and Tyson’s ‘God & the Knights’ is a powerful addition to that catalogue of pain.
The rest of the world moves on to the next conflict; the soldier often returns to a life that’s just as difficult as the battlefield.
‘Crooked Beard’ recounts the story of bushranger, Captain Thunderbolt, and ‘The Walls of Derry’ is Tyson’s new version of the song written with John Fegan for their much travelled band, Rough Red.
As in Afghanistan and Vietnam, the scars of Ireland run deep: “The walls have stood for a thousand years/You can wash away the blood with tears.”
Sometimes, it is the songwriter’s job to amplify the history we might otherwise never know, such as the slave trade of First Nation’s women stolen by sealers from islands in the Bass Strait, as told in ‘Tyereelore’.
And sometimes difficult questions can be addressed in a few concise verses, such as the line between historical curiosity and unhealthy obsession considered in ‘Berlin Bunker’.
‘Grand KPIs’ puts the boot into the corporate world where “your words are like treason for dreamers like me”, with Tyson’s acid observations brought into focus by Ian Shawsmith’s searing slide guitar.
Personal stories and the affairs of the heart cut just as deeply.
Sometimes, the most telling love stories are the ones that never take root, like the one revealed in ‘Colour Blind’.
Yet sometimes love does blossom and the storyteller finds the truth is close to home, in the story of a partnership that lasted 72 years in ‘It’s Time To Go’.
That’s the song Steve sang to his mother on the day she passed away.
In the past few years, there has been much to enjoy in the later work of Australian songwriters such as Russell Morris, Glenn Cardier and Joe Camilleri.
With ‘Banjo’s Last Ride’, Tyson delivers an album of powerful, passionate songcraft that is just as worthy of your time.
CD review by Tony Smith
TN2504-76 – $20
TN155 Apr 23
This 2021 album has detailed sleeve notes with lyrics and advice about who plays on each track.
Steve Tyson sings and plays guitars, piano, banjo, mandolin, dobro, kick and snare drums.
The Train Rex are Andy Kirkcaldie (drums), John Barr (bass guitar, backing vocals), Ian Shawsmith (guitars) and Jodie Murtha (keys, piano, backing vocals).
The twelve songs display wide stylistic variety.
Steve Tyson dedicated the album to his mother Joy and he sang the final track, co-written with his Karen, the moving ‘It’s Time to Go’ for his Mum on the day she died.
At 95, there was no need for her to try to hang on.
Another very personal song is the dramatic ‘Blues for William Blake’.
This is based on Tyson’s response to Blake’s ‘Poison Tree’.
This heavy and powerful song features some very fine lead guitar riffs.
Some songs – ‘Berlin Bunker’ and ‘Gare du Nord’ – are responses to European travels.
‘The Walls of Derry’ is a reprise of the Tyson and John Fegan Rough Red song about the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland.
Ironically perhaps, this song about strife features some of the finest harmony on the album.
Perhaps the most curious song is ‘I Wish You Luck’.
Steve Tyson heard the story of a bankrupt English businessman who was disappointed in his horse’s performance and so tried to shoot it.
The problem was that he got the jockey instead.
Despite the seemingly trivial content, Tyson arranges the backing on this song especially well.
‘Colour Blind’ is a blues type number which notes the sadness about people learning the truth far too late.
The guitar here yearns, the harmonies are excellent and the lyrics are well suited to Tyson’s husky voice.
‘You Picked a Fine Time’ (to tell me) has an upbeat drum and driving guitar opening.
It is raw rhythm and blues and stands out as perhaps the album’s most memorable track musically.
It is always good to see Australian songwriters tackling local stories and Tyson chooses some important ones.
‘God & the Knights’ raises the issue of the fate of military veterans.
Some people feel uncomfortable discussing PTSD and suicide rates, but this silence increases the suffering.
‘Crooked Beard’ tells the story of bushranger Frederick Ward aka Thunderbolt.
Tyson’s banjo is a highlight of this bush ballad.
The name ‘Tyereelore’ was used to describe the Tasmanian Aboriginal women enslaved by Bass Strait sealers.
There is genuine heartache in the refrain “please take me home”.
Tyson has a good eye and ear for pretensions and propaganda.
In ‘Grand KPIs’ written in collaboration with John Barr, he exposes the rubbish that goes on in the corporate world (key performance indicators).
“Your words, they say, are like treason for dreamers like me.”
Steve Tyson’s arrangement of all these songs brings out the best in them.
There are impressive harmonies and the female voice lifts several tracks.
Above all, every song features clean and bright guitar work that would rock any pub or festival tent.