"Cause the farm has been dry for six straight long years/ what else can a man like me do/ but go down to the mines with a shovel and pick/ and dig up some diamonds for you." Thinking Of You - Paul Hicks.

When singer songwriter Paul Hicks thumbed south down Lost Highway 31 from Oxley to the big smoke in 1984 he was best known for his football prowess.

Hicks and three brothers booted, marked and chased leather for Wangaratta Rovers - one of the teams that Collingwood champion Bob Rose coached to a premiership.

The long lean leather magnet took the road less travelled with sport while he developed a profession with a business degree at Swinburne University.

Hicks headed to Europe, Asia and Africa and on his return soaked up passion for music as an office volunteer and DJ at aspirant Beer Can Hill radio station Nu Country FM.

The singer noted a vast void in the market so he formed the Haybalers and Broken Spoke with fellow DJs Hans Herdina, Red Smith and Nu Country technician Rodger Delfos - a Dead Livers guitarist.

After the station burned down on June 26, 2000, and resurrected at the Paris, Texas, top of Collins St in 2001, Hicks spread his wings again when it didn't win a licence.


Fellow DJ and veteran actor Peter Hosking recruited Hicks and fellow disc jockeys Red and Heather Rutherford in 2003 as hosts of Nu Country TV on popular Victorian community station C 31.

Hicks, confidence boosted by his profile, tried a cerebral challenge - writing songs for the most neglected genre in the unlucky radio country.
Broken Spoke performed on C 31 and community radio to promote its CD while Hicks built a hefty catalogue without a home.

Broken Spoke

So he lured a bunch of higher profile peers to embroider tunes road tested beyond the city limits on the Shipwreck Coast and the shrinking suburban skull orchard circuit.

Hicks co-produced the disc with guitarist Craig Pilkington and plays acoustic guitar with studio band including Broken Spoke drummer Ron Mahney, bassist John Edgar and vast cast of guests.

The include pedal steel guitarist Garrett Costigan, Bill Chambers on lap steel and guitar, Greg Hunt on fiddle-mandolin, organist Bruce Haymes, Peter Somerville on banjo and Dave Evans on accordion.

So you have the roll call - what about the music?

Well, Hicks did his research and avoided the alt country quicksand of peers and cut a roots country disc that will surprise skeptics.

The singer dug deep into his travels and psyche and bares heart and soul on a disc that he entrées with A Little Better Than That - saga of a honky-tonk temptress with a ring on her finger and cheating on her mind.

It's a surefire staple of the genre and sibling of drinking song Just Cause I Was Falling In Love, Continental love of The Time I Get To You, ignited by accordion.

He laces love tunes The Only One, replete with travel stained imagery, Comin' Home and Before You Say Goodbye with suffice lachrymose lava to jerk tears.

But equally importantly message songs such as the biblical title track, given a rollicking piano priming by Haymes, and Broken Child are personalised to add country credibility.

Sequencing is impeccable - the biographical If It Sounds Good segues into a vat of vitriol poured into Almost Gone and the metaphorical rural requiem finale Thinking Of You.

This release will be swift solace for Hicks who lost his mother and father to illness in less than 12 months.

They would be proud his sympathetic instrumentation and production ensure he is a Wangaratta mile ahead of the Australiana clones and alt country drones.


Hicks' younger peers diverse as teenage Toowoomba troubadour Kim MacKenzie, Jake Nickolai, Camden chanteuse Corrina Steel and The Davidson Brothers pick up the torch on the Sabbath.

The artists, augmented by seasoned Sunraysia saddletramps The T-Bones and suburban bluegrass band Barnlaid, perform at the Nu Country TV concert on the Arts Centre lawn in St Kilda Road.

The Arts sponsored concert, designed to give exposure to young local artists ignored by commercial radio in their homeland, is an accurate barometer of our talent depth.

It's given exposure on surrogate radio - Nu Country TV - Saturday @ 8 p m - Tuesday @ 3 p m - on C 31.

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