2014 CD REVIEW
CAUTIONARY TALES (WARNER).
HARMONY TELLS COAL SEAM GAS MINERS TO FRACK OFF
“He bears my name, but I feel like I've failed him/ these pastures are all that I taught him/ now we'll lock up the gate with the one barb, two plain/ on the place meant to be his one day/ but I guess that won't happen now/ since someone discovered what lays in our ground/ and the dollars it pays are worth more than life in this place.” - Coal Seam Gas - Harmony James.
Harmony James is well qualified to sing of ravages inflicted on our pastures and water supplies by avaricious armies drilling coal seam gas.
The fifth of 12 children of a Baptist preacher worked as beef cattle researcher and jillaroo before being rescued by the Flying Doctor when bucked from a horse near Charleville in outback Queensland.
Harmony also worked as a welder, ringer and other labour intensive jobs from the cattle stations of the Barkly Tablelands to Cape York to Tennant Creek before chancing her voice as a singer in Goondiwindi.
She won many local fans but not as many as Gunsynd - the champion thoroughbred who won 29 races and $280,455 in prize money before he went to God on April 29, 1983.
Gunsynd was known as the Goondiwindi Grey because his owners came from Goondiwindi and his colour was the same as the late Charlie Rich's mane.
But now it's natural brunette Harmony, born in affluent Melbourne bayside suburb Sandringham, who sings for a plethora of farming families pushed aside by energy giants in Coal Seam Gas - the punchy peak of her highly accessible third album.
The gas guzzlers, many owned offshore, are the latest invaders to jeopardise family farms.
Back in the fifties and sixties greedy governments decimated rural families with draconian death duties until a not-so-great Dane declared Johland as the duty free oasis for a state frequently attacked by drought, bushfires and cyclones.
Now farmers are being subjected to the divide and conquer tactics of coal seam gas and wind farm Fuehrers eager to prey on ailing agrarians.
Shipwreck Coast denizens have long been subjected to wind farms making the most of the offshore gales before moving inland to sheep breeding studs.
They have yet to take off on the former farm lands and killing fields of Brunswick where more lethal lurkers are rampaging or south of the Yarra where Toorak Turbines has a nice ring to it.
But there's a chance to remedy that.
Strategic location of wind turbines on the roofs of new sky scrapers in the Melbourne CBD and Docklands - even existing multi-national companies HQ - would be a real crowd pleaser.
Although Harmony's birthplace is in little danger of coal seam gas mining many of her rural fans are not so lucky.
SKINNY FLAT WHITES
“To you I'm just a skinny flat white with two/ hey that's cool, I'm fairly certain you don't have a clue/ and to you I'm just a skinny flat white with two/ and it's true, I'm really paying for a smile from you.” - Skinny Flat White - Harmony James-Brooke McClymont.
For nouveau music buffs Ted's gang were a rock combo - not an affiliate of local crime gangs.
But they were the headline act one dark night in St Kilda when Warrnambool born South Yarra health food shop operator Ray Francis and your humble diarist copped a flurry of punches from Queen Of Pop Christie Allen's feisty fiancé as we crossed the cavernous Kingston Rock stage in 1979 for a post gig congratulatory cuppa.
We had wrongly assumed we were in safe hands as the third more nimble musketeer - late former boxing champ, publican and then North Melbourne football club fitness instructor Johnny Wheeler - had led our trio.
Justice was delivered by Jack Maloney SM at Prahran Court but I appear to have digressed.
Skinny Flat White is a radio friendly fable where James expands on a fully caffeinated desire to be loved - not drunk.
Sadly, with few friendly radio outlets in the big smoke, the video will serve as the singer's sales catalyst.
Imagery has long been Harmony's strong suit - especially from her album entrée - the time travel of 30,000 Feet .
It's Longreach - not Dallas below - so the long distance love lament won't be confused with Texan Jimmie Dale Gilmore's historic Dallas From A DC 9 At Night .
Sharp eyed viewers may have noticed Gilmore in the role of Reverend Saunders laying Lee Harvey Oswald to rest in 2013 movie Parklands after cameos in The Big Lebowski, Friday Night Lights, Roswell, Traveler, Squidbillies and 1993 Bluebird Café movie The Thing Called Love .
30,000 Feet is a perfect segue to the chill and solitude of a distant love for cattlemen and women in Cold Western Wind .
KIM RICHEY WINNERS IN WAR
“What are we fighting for, what are we fighting for/ the price that we're paying is dear to the heart/ we could fight our way back if we knew where to start.” - Winners In War - Harmony James-Kim Richey.
Harmony teamed with widely lauded Ohio born Kim Richey, who first toured here in 2002 with Jim Lauderdale, Canadian Fred Eaglesmith and Van Diemen's Land refugee Audrey Auld, for Winners In War - another credible social comment tune that exploits battle metaphors for love.
Equally evocative is Icebergs , replete with sparse piano accompaniment and equestrian imagery, that delves into the pain of losing a child.
“I woke up one morning with this particular bunch of thoughts in my head and I had to write the song immediately,” James confessed.
“We'd already done all the band tracks for the album and picked our short list. I had this song, absolutely brand new, and I thought while we have the piano out we should probably just demo it. It was literally the first take of the song that had been done. We recorded it, played it back a couple of times and thought ‘you know what - let's keep it.”
“And papa says to me when I turn seventeen/ I'm heading east to find a gentleman of means/ each sun up it gets closer and I'm worrying it seems/ and wishing that I had more time.” - Pancho's Boy - Harmony James.
The singer excels with wanderlust fuelled love paean Faraway Eyes and segues into more travel travails in What You Gonna Do About Me - co-written with Mark Scholtez - where her gypsy spirit prevails over tedium
James exudes delicious dexterity in accentuating all emotions - fading love propels wistful ballad While You Were Sleeping , hunger for romance dominates Something, Something and fear of rejection permeates the banjo and fiddle driven In Another Life with Travis Collins's background vocals .
A rollicking bluegrass feel ignites redemption of a lover in Coming Home Again - a collaboration with Polly Medlen.
The fitting finale is forbidden lover lament Pancho's Boy , laced with mariachi horns, trombone, cello and backing vocals by Drew McAlister and Mike Carr.
It's the age old theme of a protective father trying to persuade his teenage daughter to flee their poverty primed roots and a local lad who may not offer the same security as a city slicker.
This is a clever cross cultural time travel back and across the ocean back to an era when Marty Robbins, Doug Sahm, Johnny Rodriguez, Gene Autry, Freddie Fender and others rode the range south of the border in movies and music.
“I take a piece out of fantasy land which for me is still a hangover from reading western novels as a kid,” James says of her dream weaving.
Kovac's production ensures a pure country capsule with Michel Rose's pedal steel, fiddler-mandolinist Tim Crouch, Randy Kohrs' dobro, pianist Bill Risby and Clayton Doley on Hammond Organ.