2016 CD REVIEW
URBAN PULLS RIPCORD ON COUNTRY EN ROUTE TO MUSTER
“I'm a 45 spinning on an old Victrola/ I'm a two strike swinger, I'm a Pepsi cola/ I'm a blue jean quarterback saying I love you/ to the prom queen in a Chevy/ I'm John Wayne, Superman, California/ I'm a Kris Kristofferson Sunday morning/ I'm a mom and daddy singing along to Don McLean at the levee.” - John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 - Shane McAnally-Ross Copperman-Josh Osborne.
“I grew up listening to Don Williams because of my dad, that thing that those records have that sounds like my childhood.”
“My dad's stereo - that's the first thing I think of, is that kind of strong downbeat, backbeat and little in-between rhythmic thing that is very Don Williams. It really informed so much of how I play and how I rhythmically approach records.”
The laid back Texan's music may be vastly different to the Urban repertoire he will expose at the famed Deni Ute Muster on September 30 and national tour in December with Oklahoma oriole Carrie Underwood.
But there is a flashback on his 10 TH album Ripcord.
Urban credits his dad for the ballad Blue Ain't Your Color - a song he co-produced with Dann Huff.
“ Blue Ain't Your Color is a very, very stark, minimalistic way of recording, which really comes from those records that Don and Garth Fundis did,” Urban explained.
“And to go back now and listen to some of those - which I do pretty often, just to be reminded of how little you need on certain tracks.
“Don also had that attitude, too, like, the song is the picture, and the record is the frame. You've got to find the right frame, not too much and not too little, to make the picture really work. So for the songs that don't need much, like Blue Ain't Your Color , my dad's record collection obviously has informed that a lot.”
Urban, singing spouse of actress Nicole Kidman, learned his love of rhythm from his father and has passed it down to their daughters Sunday Rose, now seven and Faith Margaret, five.
“My dad was a drummer, so his very strong rhythmic influence on me as a kid is becoming even more and more apparent to me. He was just banging on stuff all the time: the dashboard of the car, the table at home during breakfast. I find myself doing the same thing, without realising it, until my kids start banging on the table and looking at me; they're doing what I'm trying to do. I'm like, I didn't realise I was doing it.”
Urban's international success is a far cry from his Melbourne debut CD launch at Prince Patrick Hotel in Collingwood where he played to 14 customers whom he later joined on the Victoria Parade footpath with then manager Greg Shaw who mowed lawns in Nashville to help Keith as he wrote songs and sang for his supper.
When the humble singer returned to Australia a few years later with his trio The Ranch they chose the Northcote Leader car park as their launch pad to climb the balcony into the Nu Country FM studios at Beer Can Hill .
That feat was laudable as the station was not on air that day so they supported Nu Country with a pre-recorded interview and humorous station IDS.
But that was then and this is now the breaking of the rural drought with Urban's music eclectic enough to penetrate corporate commercial radio chains and mainstream TV.
GIBSON GUITARS AND JUKE BOXES
“I'm Mark Twain on the Mississippi/ I'm Hemingway with a shot of whiskey/ I'm a TV dinner on a tray trying to figure out the Wheel of Fortune/ I'm a Texaco star, I'm a Gibson guitar/ I'm still a teenage kid trying to go too far/ I'm a jukebox waiting in a neon bar for a quarter.” - John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 - Shane McAnally-Ross Copperman-Josh Osborne.
Urban's triple John hit was fuelled by a retro style nostalgia video transformed into a collage from his adoptive Tennessee home.
It featured plenty of shots of old-school American life - a soda fountain, retro cars, tiny town Main Street, little league sign and a Laundromat.
They were interspersed with Urban playing and singing the song on a simple, off-white soundstage.
Every so often the background behind Urban changed and his silhouette became animated.
“John Cougar references all the sort of sexual tension of teenage angst all of us were growing up in,” says song co-writer Shane McAnally.
“John Deere represents the way that our parents worked and what we saw living in the country, and of course there's the element of religion. And there's irony in John Cougar starting the line and John 3:16 ending the line because that was the push and pull of that teenage thing.”
The up-tempo track instantly resonated with Keith when he first heard it.
“It's the poetic use of the three John's and what each represents to me,” says Urban.
“ John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 was sent to me a few months ago by one of the songwriters and I loved it immediately -loved it so much that right before I walked out on stage at the Ryman Auditorium for CRS a few months back, I thought I'd play the song solo acoustic to see what the audience thought. Flash forward and there's no doubt that their response that day helped make it the first single from my album. It was a great feeling to be back in the studio shaping a new album.”
“Outta nowhere it slipped away/ the rope by the river hangs silently/ and the town that we knew/ ain't nothin' like it used to be , I can't explain/ they took all the color from the picture frame/ and the days got sold to the grid and the game.” - Wasted Time - Keith Urban-Greg Wells-J Hart.
“I have a lot of that formative years memories from sort of ten to 16, 17 right through there. So, that's a big coming of age, rites of passage period in a boy's life. And there was a place we had to I think it was called Lime Rock was the name of the little water hole we would go down to and there was a big rope swing that someone had put in a tree and it was a horrendously long drop to the river below and we would often just cut class and go down there and hang out. And I have such great memories of that. It was an exhilarating, exciting time. You know, girls and skipping class and finding somebody that owns a car on Friday nights and pile into that and drive around with nothing to do except hang out at the gas station, act important and be somebody that you're not. And I have the best memories of that. The rope swing thing is very strong to me. And it was crazy, you know. I get here to write with these two guys and Greg Wells is from Canada and J. Hart is from Atlanta, Georgia, and yet the three of us had the exact same memories, pretty much the same. Different names of drinks, different names of cars, different names of towns, but pretty much all the same things. So, this song really took off when we started writing it.”
The skinny dipping sunshine hippies in finale Worry About Nothing may be peeled from his back pages but not from his pen.
Those publishing royalties flow back to prolific hit writers Chris Tompkins, Ross Clawson and Josh Kear.
Other covers include Break On Me, Boy Gets A Truck, That Could Still Be Us, Gone Today, Habit Of You and Getting In The Way.
But the singer takes credit or blame for his musical collaboration with rapper Pitbull and Nile Rogers on Sun Don't Let Me Down.
Mr Pitbull may or may not be nipping at the heels of Utes at the muster but it's an indulgence Urban can afford to practice at this stage of his career.
It's sure to polarise purists but may be more melodic than some local alt-country that wouldn't pass muster at an Americana awards show or radio station.
“I love that people want to hear the guitar, but I just think about the song,” says Urban renowned for hid dexterity on Ganjo.
“It's like saying I have to put fiddling on it because it's a country record. It's whatever the song seems to want.”
CARRIE - A FIGHTER AND SURVIVOR
“What if I fall, what if I cry/ and if I get scared?/ I'll hold you tighter/ when they're trying get to you baby/ I'll be the fighter.” - The Fighter - Keith Urban-Busbee.
Urban earned marital approval when he road-tested The Fighter in his well publicised car karaoke cameo with wife Nicole.
It's not clear if the album duet with seven time Grammy winner Carrie Underwood will be performed as a trio when Carrie joins Keith on her second tour of Australia in December.
That tour also features alt-indie quartet Buchanan, reportedly chosen by Urban.
But it's one of two songs penned here with fellow hit writer Busbee and much deeper than their ditty Your Body .
The album's accessible entree is another Urban original written with New Mexico born Grammy winner Jeff Bhasker and Samuel Tyler Johnson - no, not the bloke who played the lead in the TV series Molly.
Urban also returns to his birth nation on his summer tour but won't bringing U.S. touring partners Brett Eldredge and Maren Morris.
“I'm so psyched about finally getting to play a real show in the country of my birth,” Urban revealed.
“The last time I played music there, I was in a duo playing every weekend at a pub called the DB Onerahi in Whangarei. And I was 17.”
That duo, California Suite , with old friend, Angie Marquis, performed covers by Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, John Mellencamp, James Taylor, UB40 , George Strait and Alabama .
California Suite reportedly won Urban and Marquis a top 10 spot in a 1986 Starmaker talent-show.
Urban closed previous album Fuse with a video for Raise Em Up - his fifth #1 hit from the album and 33 rd Top 10 hit - with North Carolina born stone country star Eric Church.
"Eric and I have been friends for a couple of years," said Urban.
"I was hoping we could figure out a song to do at some point and when Raise Em Up came my way, I knew I'd found the one. I sent it to Eric, and he loved it. Nathan Chapman and I created the track, Eric came down and we both sang, and it was all done in half a day."
The song, recorded in Nashville, was written by Jaren Johnston, Jeffrey Steele and Tom Douglas.