Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Album Review - "Breaking Hearts and Saving Souls" by Roland K Smith & The Sinners

Breaking Hearts and Saving Souls (2012)               1/2

Sydney fivesome Roland K Smith & The Sinners have their first EP to release Breaking Hearts and Saving Souls on August 1. It’s ideal for night time listening, to cuddle up to someone near or even enjoy alone. The band has had airplay on Triple J, FBi and 2ser and the melange of retro love songs, country ballads and modern lyricism gives the album a sense of timelessness that makes it a great listen.

The album literally is a collection of songs about breaking hearts and saving souls, with some feel-good ballads in between. The overall sound is reminiscent of a dusty American country town, not a cosmopolitan beachside city in Australia. Opening track ‘Saddest Eyes’ features bluegrass and country influences, while bringing in unconventional instruments like a mandolin, homemade junk percussion and glockenspiel. The triple j unearthed artist claims classic inspirations such as Bob Dylan, The Doors and Johnny Cash, and it’s evident that Roland has picked up on their instrumental and lyrical talent to create a story of his own through this album.

 If anything, the groovy, twangy solos are a part of the songs to savour, as musical skill is developed and discovered during solo time. ‘Wait All Night’, homage to Bob Dylan with a whining singer longing for a girl, also has a killer solo. The track which seems to stand out the most to me is ‘Brightest Star’, a sad love ballad throwing back to the past and an attempt to grab at lost illusions, with farewelling sincere heartfelt lyrics like “It’s time to say goodbye”, “you can’t hold onto that bright star in the sky.

At first listen, I was reminded of The Traveling Wilburys (supergroup including Bob Dylan and George Harrison) – a compliment, given the masterful playing, clever arrangements and unique but raspy vocals. Roland’s voice can get a bit tiring after ten tracks and the percussion beats could be more innovative. However, all components work well together to create an authentic country atmosphere and the upbeat intros are attractive. ‘Stuck On You’ is an upbeat track about a good-looking girl and ‘The Train Song’ weaves in banjo strumming with a rock feel for a lively song.

The most admirable songs on the album are the slow, lyrical, raw tunes. ‘Cold Winter’ is a dynamic, emotional tune with a great beat and those addictive growling vocals. The dark, eerie feeling continues on in ‘Two Men’ where Roland channels Mark Lanegan’s rough yet alluring voice - “you’re the angel that haunts my dreams.” Final track ‘Dorothy’ ends the album with a bitter twist – it’s such a harmonious track with lyrics full of regret and a fragile delivery, “I did it all for you.”

Breaking Hearts and Saving Souls is a classic album to listen to in full – to take a trip down memory lane (or at least someone else’s experiences) on a chilly winter evening. It has upbeat tracks about friendship and sad ballads about heartache and love. Some songs can get a bit irritating with the country twang but there are some great tunes in there.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Album Review - "She's A Riot" by the Jungle Giants

Junk of the Heart (2011)               1/2

Don’t be fooled by cheerful guitar, solid melodies and happy vibes, there’s a darker regretful undertone running through the JUNGLE GIANTS latest EP release She’s A Riot. The Brisbane foursome have just brought five fresh tracks of their bright indie pop documenting the possibilities of young love, with a bit of heartache in-between. Their down-to-earth lyrics and solid arrangements are reminiscent of an early KOOKS or JINJA SAFARI. You can tell these guys were friends in high school  - their musical talents fit well together.

Title track ‘She’s A Riot’ opens the EP with a playful serenade with a catchy chorus, fun twangy guitar and high-spirited lyrics: “Wake up, turn around, you’re my girl.” One to clap along to, bop around with – it’s a bubbly tune that characterises the JUNGLE GIANT’s young, sprightly energy. This one might end even up on the triple j 100 next year.

‘Don’t Know What Else To Do’ follows with an optimistic vibe, classic pop arrangement and a groovy bass line. It’s the sort of track that reminds us of an outdoor summer party full of pleasant tunes like this one. The energetic build-up to the chorus brings all parts of the band together and is a sweet sing-a-long, “I’m crazy for you girl, that’s why I got to play it cool.” The jangly guitar can get a bit irritating but overall the sound works.

‘You’ve Got Something’ would have to be one of my favourites off the EP. With more of a rock feel (and suspiciously-sounding Colplay-ish guitar jams in between) it’s a track which is a bit more serious than their bouncy songs. From the smooth vocals by SAM HALES, we feel the sense of bitterness and disappointment arising from the story. CERISA’s guitar strumming at the end is even a bit reminiscent of early CHILI’s songs. Along with heavy drumming and deep bass, it’s one of their more introspective tracks.

‘Way Back When’ follows the theme of the title – a nostalgic look back on a friendship or close love. It’s one of the tracks that highlight JUNGLE GIANTS great bridges, building up tension before the burst of a lively chorus. Background singing oooohs from the band gives it a bit of a folk feel up against the reverb. This song feels like a modern twist on Elton John’s “Your Song”, not quite as poetic, but still with meaningful lyrics and a bluesy-rock feel, “Doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s in my heart that you belong.”

Final track ‘Back To The Start’ is a return to JUNGLE GIANTS’ more upbeat tunes, with sweet harmonising and dreamy lyrics. “I want to go back to the stars.” It’s really a song about not being sure about life, what you’re meant to be doing and being okay with that. After we’ve been on this journey through young love, disappointment and party times with friends this song encapsulates the carefree young atmosphere of the entire EP.

Published on Purple Sneakers

Sunday, 5 August 2012

'The Duchess of Malfi' at the Sydney Opera House

An unusual choice for a Bell Shakespeare production, The Duchess of Malfi proves to entertain, frighten and mesmerise at the same time. John Bell's direction of John Webster's fierce play remains true to the brutality and drama of the script while presenting a piece of mature acting and powerful delivery. The Duchess of Malfi follows a sequence of revenge - after the young duchess is widowed her brothers wish to maintain their control over her. The strong elements of misogyny in the play, or at least patriarchy, are not entirely pertinent to the modern audience. The story fundamentally relies on the values of its own time but the Sydney Opera house viewers didn't seem to have too much of a problem with the historical aspects.

Unlike in a typical Shakespeare play, Webster does not provide any breathing room in the story, any comic relief or substitute for the intense drama. Similarly, Bell does not provide his audience with an interval, possibly in an effort to fully draw us deeper into the story. When the duchesses' brothers discover that she has married and had a baby in secret, a string of murders follow. This production deals with the deaths in an unorthodox way, in some parts it feels almost like a horror film - with realistic blood and gore, in others the act is almost a wicked puppetry, an abstracted motion. 

The minimalist set confines the actor's movement, for what is a play full of motion and change. In fact, Webster's piece seems to imitate the passion and thrill of Shakespeare's work without the poetic, complex language. It is not the most comprehensive play from the company but the sense of instinct and raw primality appears in the maturity of the acting. Lucy Bell plays the duchess herself with a dynamic haunting performance up against that of her good-hearted lover Antonio (played by Matthew Moore). The most skilful representation is that of the pain, the regret, the consequence of the characters' impassioned moments.

There are many erotic moments during the play, without the tenacity of a romantic Shakespeare, developed physically and full of obsession. It's almost as if these characters cannot control themselves when it comes to love, family or death. There are confronting moments and because of the lack of interval or downplayed scenes, the audience can feel almost as overwhelmed and emotionally wrecked as the story's creatures. The compact set is lined by closed doors, focusing on what is hidden and more importantly who - as out of those doors comes both lust and danger.

John Bell's abstract take on a play seeking for meaning and unraveling obsession accentuates our hidden intentions. Among the characters, each of them has a secret. It's only up to the audience to decide who to feel the most sorry for in this great tragedy on the stage.