2017 CD REVIEW
THE DAVIDSON BROTHERS
ALL YOU NEED IS MUSIC ( www.davidsonbrothersband.com )
DAVIDSON BROTHERS PROVE MUSIC AND HUMOUR A HEALTHY HYBRID
“If you ask me, all you need is music/and a little red wine to have a good time/ nothing else matters in the long run/ they pulled another factory down/ and had to leave my home town/ found a new place to live/ got nothing left to give.” - All You Need Is Music - Hamish and Lachlan Davidson.
Gippsland born Hamish and Lachlan Davidson hit the long and winding road as teenagers to follow their musical dreams way beyond the coal fields, forests and dairy belt.
Now, two decades after first heading west from tiny township Yinnar onto their Lost Highway 1 - the Princes - the brothers are enjoying well deserved longevity from taking chances.
Those chances included frequent trips to the bucolic bluegrass peaks and verdant valleys of the American Deep South and playing a vast variety of festivals.
Exposure to the kings and queens of the historic genre has again paid off on their eighth album All You Need Is Music - the fifth disc they recorded with ace session stalwarts in Music City , Nashville.
And, to maximise marketing, the 13 track disc, released on Hamish's 33rd birthday on April 7 and launched at a pub with no kitchen, is split into a Bluegrass A-side and Country B-side.
The launch locale - the Longhorn Saloon in Carlton - was forced to close its kitchen because upstairs neighbours objected to BBQ steak, chops and snags fragrances wafting into their nearby digs, frocks and jocks.
The apt album entrée is regret fuelled Back Where I Started - one of an even dozen originals penned by Hamish and Lachlan - and featuring Hamish's banjo and fiddle and Lachlan 's mandolin.
Sequencing is again important as it segues into positive paean What You Mean To Me and the jaunty instrumental Evelyn's Kitchen inspired by their grandmother who financed their debut disc as teenagers.
“She had a big record collection but she introduce us to stuff, and as soon as we started learning violin she pretty much guided us towards the country records that had fiddle on them,” Lachlan revealed.
“She used to bring a big tape recorder to our gigs and she would record every gig she came to. I feel like she was probably a big driver for us to win a Golden Guitar because Tamworth meant the most to her out of everyone in the family.”
Equally accessible for the duo, who have now won three Golden Guitars, is the rollicking Can't Change The Weather - a tune extolling rolling with the punches in love and life.
It leads into the melancholic title track where music is the sweet solace that uplifts the spirit on downward spirals of the heart and mind.
Larry Sparks historic heartbreak homily These Old Blues - the only cover on the disc produced by Mark Thornton and Larry Marrs at Sidekick Sound Studios and featuring extra vocals by bluegrass belle Claire Lynch and Marrs - is sandwiched between the title track and another instrumental Brown Snake .
“I like Brown Snake because it's on the edge and you rarely hear banjo tunes in minor keys,” Hamish Davidson explained.
“The theme behind Can't Change the Weather turns me on too. It's about living in the moment and surrendering to things which you can't control.”
TAKING A LITTLE DRIVE TO HEATHCOTE
“I'm going take a little drive, going to head out west/ to a little place that I love the best/ going to clear my mind where the river winds/ kick up a little dust and leave it all behind/ I know a place where the land meets the trees/ stars in the sky as far as you can see/ getting out of town always feels so good/ I'd play fiddle all day if I could.” - Take A Little Drive - Hamish and Lachlan Davidson.
“We got out there and wrote Take A Little Drive in that first session,” Hamish revealed.
“It was sort of a bluesier thing when we wrote it. When the song was recorded, however, country elements seeped in and you sort of get the two colours.”
Fittingly the video peaks on the farm near where expat Texan Doug Bruce operates a recording studio for his band and peers.
The country side of the disc kicks off with another road song See My Girl where the joyous journey on a midnight highway at the end of the working week peaks in the jubilation of a romantic reunion at the end of the marathon trek.
It segues into the rock rooted sensual sibling song Lock Horns where the fiery unbridled passion is primed with an insatiable desire with caution, hopefully not coition, thrown to the wind.
The duo slow the tempo but not the desire in the self-explanatory I Won't Give Up that enables the writers to rhyme highway with my way without a hint of Sinatra.
The road theme extends into the rollicking escapism of Take A Little Drive .
But the melancholic mood of instrumental Pending Arrival is accentuated by pedal steel guitarist Russ Pahl's interaction with the multi-skilled siblings and acoustic guitarist Tim Crouch.
“ Pending Arrival is a fiddle ballad I wrote when I was expecting my first son, but we were expecting our second son when we made this recording, so that was an emotional experience,” Hamish confessed.
The lull in proceedings is soon transformed into the exuberance of finale Scrambled Eggs where the duo's dietary dalliances exude an infectious humour as they indulge in some fantasy frolics driven by veteran drummer Kenny Malone, upright bassist Dennis Crouch and guest guitarists Tim Crouch and James Mitchell.
It's a far cry from the duo's recording debut at 13 and 15.
“We made our first recording in 1998 and released it the following year,” Hamish recalled.
“There were two original instrumentals on there but it took longer to build our confidence enough to write lyrics
“Early on we wrote material in the timeless themes that have always been popular in bluegrass such as heartache and lost love, financial hardship, life struggles.
“These days, although we keep most of our songs universal, they're definitely more autobiographical. Even the silly songs.”
COOLGRASS FROM GIPPSLAND TO GYMPIE
“Miracles ain't predictable and it's rare when they happen to me/ just now I'm feeling as lucky as I can be/ when those heart strings are humming/ and it just feels so right, I want to get in there and hold her close tonight/ and it's a miracle that I found you/ and another that you found me/ you opened up my heart and set me free.” - What You Mean To Me - Hamish and Lachlan Davidson.
It has long been evident the duo was raised on rural radio and bush bashes with a family support akin to their heroes and mentors.
We were first exposed to bluegrass music when novelty-bluegrass band Coolgrass played at the Gippsland Acoustic Music Club ,” Hamish recalled.
“Our family used to look forward to attending these club nights every month and occasionally we'd get to open for one of the acts passing through. When we saw Coolgrass it was also the first time I'd seen a banjo played - on the spot I decided I was going to take up banjo.”
And, like families diverse as the Cashes, Carters, Isaacs, Monroe, Vincent, McCoury, Cox and Lynch clans, the genes are deep and supportive.
“We are fourth-generation musicians - at least - on both the Davidson and Young sides of our family,” Hamish explained.
“So playing music has always been considered a normal thing to put time into in our family. Our parents have always played with highland pipe bands. So before OH&S policies started systematically destroying the culture we used to attend loads of events and festivals. Our weekends were very full. As we got older our parents got braver and took us further. Highlights of our upbringing included attending the major Australian folk festivals and in 1997 a music tour of Ireland , Scotland and the USA .”
Unlike urban music gigs, dictated by the tyranny of traffic and trading hours, there's a culture of all night picking sessions and jam sessions around camp fires, creek beds and river banks in the bluegrass genre.
And, for those who perceive bluegrass as a complex foreign genre, here's more insight from Hamish.
“It does seem complicated at first, and Bill Monroe used to insist that, ‘If you can play bluegrass music you can play anything.' “Like jazz, bluegrass is very improvised, so we don't rehearse very often unless we are introducing a bunch of new repertoire.
It's a lot like learning a language.”
The Davidson Brothers take a break from cracking bones and jokes to showcase their album at the Union Club , Brunswick , on July 8 before Petersham Bowling Club on August 20 and the Milk Factory in Brisbane 's West End en route to Gympie Muster on August 26 and 27.
And, for those not busy with AFL finals, you can take a little drive to see the duo at the Deni Ute Muster on September 29.