2016 CD REVIEW
SMALL TOWN ROMANCE INDIE http://www.smalltownromance.com.au/
ON THE ROAD AGAIN - FROM COLAC TO AIREY'S INLET
“Made my mark, I was low on fuel/ when the sound of your voice came crashing through/ sadness sorrow but no surprise/ I said the key's on the shelf, let yourself inside/ dusting for prints after the avalanche/ all that rage, well it made no sense/ humble beginnings laid bare to see/ my dreams are still sinking below me.” - Timber & Stone - Flora Smith-Jim Arneman.
When Jim Arneman expanded on characters he and Small Town Romance song-writing-duet partner Flora Smith created in their video for recent single Timber & Stone he had plenty of experience to draw upon.
Arneman directed film clips for Victorian peers Raised by Eagles , Tracy McNeil & The Good Life, Sean McMahon and The Moonmen and Ayleen O'Hanlon.
He headed north to high country football fields and Winton speedway to flesh out the cinematic scenery for Raised By Eagles and Tracy McNeil.
But this time Arneman drove west on Highway 1 to the Colac timber and dairy belt and then south to Airey's Inlet on the Great Ocean Road to illustrate the journey of the song's characters.
"It's a very atmospheric song, so we wanted to embrace that with the video, strike a melancholy tone but at the same time undermine it,” Arneman revealed.
“I've directed narrative style videos with characters before and they have a tendency to come off as pretty earnest. This time I was keen to try some different tactics to get the audience invested in the two main characters, make them as three dimensional as possible in four minutes. We wanted to be playful, put that gritty rural Australian drama aesthetic up against some more tongue-in-cheek stuff, do away with the moral compass and throw the audience off balance.
“We came up with the idea of doing a rural melodrama - a dramatised clip with two main characters who you see at their best and their worst during the course of the video. We had our friend theatre maker Aaron Orzech come on board to play the main drifter character and then he helped us cast Anna McIldowie opposite him. The two were old friends so it really helped create a sense of intimacy in the dance sequences.
“Stuart Mannion our cinematographer insisted that Flora and I be in the video so we came up with these peripheral supporting characters we could play. I was a country mechanic with a heart of gold who gets fucked over, and Flora plays a vapid small town real estate agent who is perpetually stuck in front of the mirror doing her make-up. The significance of our roles lie somewhere between Greek Chorus and extras in Neighbours. "
Mannion was a good choice - his capture of a cameo by a fast moving kangaroo fleeing the heavily timbered road from Colac to Airey's Inlet was active animation.
“One thing we like to do in our live shows is to re-imagine country songs as duets that previously weren't,” Jim says of the band formed in 2014.
“Flora and I love trading verses and having different characters perspectives within a song. When it came to writing one of our own it came together quickly and the band as really cooking on this cut.
“The lyric hints at something having happened in the past between these two characters, and although you're never really quite sure what is was, it was clearly significant. We wanted to leave a bit to the imagination and allow a lot of space for the instrumentation and atmosphere of the song to do paint the picture. We are really pumped that we ended up with pedal steel and telecaster guitar on this one - look out Steely Dan.”
WALTZES AND WATERMARKS
“I've got an old letter water marked/ was promptly delivered/ backdated and faded and I haven't read it/ favoured her mother/ said a ghost lived in her hall/ boarding school blues played their part/ all too easy playing open misere/ I was one in an old line of others.” - Old Letter - Jim Arneman.
He credits Jamie Argent-Jones outlaw guitar tone and Daniel Brates half time ride cymbal for driving the message home.
Smith's exposure to Tex-Mex music while living in Texas music capital Austin gives the album an extra dimension with her dexterity on button accordion on tunes diverse as Half Way Up The Hume and Rookie .
She was raised in a household filled with Irish folk music and graduated to opera before Texas travels reinforced her love of classic country.
It's no surprise third generation highway hugger Jim reaches back to family tradition to enrich Halfway Up The Hume.
“Long distance driving is something I've done plenty of because my family travels so much,” Arneman explained.
“This song started exactly where the title suggests, in a truck-stop at Tarcutta halfway up the Hume Highway before they bypassed it a couple of years back.”
But equally importantly he credits his travelling companion with expanding the delivery.
“We worked together on the lyric and the melody from my initial scribblings and Flora shaped some stream of consciousness stuff into something that rises and falls like a song,” says Arneman.
It's a sibling song of sorts of first single Rambler, also inspired by the long winding road that was home to Arneman ancestry.
“I hitched some rides through Western Queensland and the Northern Territory on the way to Darwin a couple of years back,” Jim explained.
“As a hitchhiker it's your responsibility to provide an attentive audience to the drivers' stories or else entertain them with your own. I was more a listener during this journey and I patched this song together from stories I heard along the way. I've always loved the genre of song-as-travelogue, especially when they are localised to Australian places. Dropping these sorts of geographical markers into songs is something my family has done plenty of over the years from travelling and writing from their experiences. I'm actually writing this track by track whilst sitting out the back of a donga in Camooweal on the border of Queensland and Northern Territory.”
A fitting locale as it was also celebrated in oft recorded Slim Dusty song The Ballad Of Camooweal and now a festival.
“Flora and I played a show here at a Drovers festival with my mother Anne,” Jim added.
“It was a show of mainly Slim songs rather than our stuff. But talking to people after these sorts of shows make me think that one of the main things that Slim's audience connected with was that they saw their own lives reflected back at them in his songs. I don't have any airs about myself as a man of the bush. I grew up in suburban Sydney but singing songs that reflect the varied experiences of people in Australia is something that I hope to do more of as a writer.”
Melbourne may be Jim's domicile now but he has fond memories of Sydney where his mother's degree in marine biology and Uncle David's career as a doctor added to their family musical prowess.
ROOKIES AND BOOKIES
“She like to run fast but the track is getting heavy/ kicking up the mud and the rain is coming steady/ he pulls his collar up and he finds himself a bookie/ to put a dollar down for a love struck rookie.” - Rookie - Flora Smith.
Flora also drew upon canine and equine inspiration for two of her solo compositions - Rookie and Coffee Grounds
Smith also expanded on the roots of Coffee Grounds.
“This was a song that I wrote just before we went into the studio,” Flora confessed.
“I'm thinking about how there is no sadder place in the wake of a break up, than the home you once shared with your partner. And having a dog that is a jerk just adds insult to injury. Most of the track was captured in the first take including wandering lyricism of Jamie Argent-Jones' guitar which I love. For the vocal on this track we went for a really understated performance. I'm not an understated person so this was something of a challenge for me but it suits the mundane sadness of the song perfectly. Add in the crying steel from Shane Reilly and this track reached a whole new level of abject tragedy!”
Smith also contributed another solo composition - New Things.
“This is a classic country love triangle song, girl loves boy but boy is in love with someone else,” Flora revealed.
“I wrote this song after watching a couple of friends not get it together time and time again. So it's basically the same song as Taylor Swift's You Belong with Me except not as good. The sound we were going for on this track was something akin to a 60s slick classic country sound with big BVs and interplay between the low tele and the dreamy steel. This track also has my favourite solo from Jamie on the record. I asked for a hot, low tele part and that's what I got!”
JIM FINDS JOY IN AN AUTO HARP
“I think I'll go home now/ where everything's faded and true/ my grandmother plays on her autoharp/ I could never get the damn thing in tune/ it's happy hour and I'm just a fraction unwound/ the afternoon spills out on the ground/ I'm signing tunes from before/ she says melodies don't bend and change when you want/ change when you want.” - Over The Line - Flora Smith-Jim Arneman.
History repeats when the band hits the home straight of its album.
“I found myself writing about a character on the cusp of adulthood, working high on a mountain range away from everything that was going on in the world,” Arneman says of his tune Done in By The Pace Of It All .
“Every teenager is in a rush to grow up and experience whatever rites of passage you're expecting as an adult. This is the feeling I was trying to tap into with the song. I think it's a welcome contrast to the rest of the record.”
But it was the grand matriarch Joy McKean who inspired the fitting finale Over The Line.
“I broke a writing drought by rattling off an early version of this, it felt throwaway at the time and I didn't think twice about it for a while after,” Arneman confessed.
“I played the husk I had to Flora in the lead up to the recording process and she saw some potential and crafted it into something more, coming up with the chorus melody and improving a couple of the verses. I also drew on some conversations I've had with my grandmother Joy about song-writing. Her song-writing craft is something I admire very much, Joy has very strong ideas about how melodies should endure and stay the same even when you're doing your own rendition. So she can be a truly terrifying audience member.”
OK that's a brief history of song sources and instrumentation.
What about the album's place in the modern genre?
Well, the band remains true to the roots of credible storytelling and delivers its music in a highly accessible disc that should score airplay on level radio and TV playing fields.