2015 CD REVIEW
WHITE LIES AND MELODIES (LOST HIGHWAY-UNIVERSAL)
MARFA LIGHTS – MYTHICAL STARS FROM A TEXAS GALAXY
“Late at night like the Marfa Lights/ I float for an instant than fade out of sight/ like a firefly in a mason jar, flying in circles won't get me far/ I'll be gone tomorrow, hiding with the stars.” - Same Old Thing Again - Nick Keeling.
Expat Texan bluegrass minstrel Nick Keeling exploited historic and esoteric imagery from way out west in his home state to propel the Mustered Courage tune Same Old Thing Again.
Keeling uses the mythical Marfa Lights to ignite the song entrée as the transience and turbulence of his journey is compared to the West Texas mirages.
In Keeling's song he escapes from the fools' gold of Hollywood in the metaphorical circus of life as his ghost chases trains like a headless horseman on a headless horse.
Despite both equestrian and steed suffering from absence of heads they stay on course.
Their disappearing act has its imagery rooted in the eerie illumination that created tourist trap View Park on U.S. Route 90 near Marfa Army Airfield - a World War 11 base for American and Allied pilots.
But, like the elusive character in the song, loves proves fleeting.
Maybe life imitated art when Dixie Chicks multi-instrumentalist Emily Erwin wed singer-songwriter Charlie Robison at Cibolo Creek near Marfa in 1999.
Emily's sister Martie sang Cowboy Take Me Away with fellow Dixie Chick Natalie Maines at the ceremony.
Their love, like the Marfa Lights , disappeared into the stars when they divorced in 2008.
There are more lights and shadows in the ruptured romance requiem album entrée Leave This Life Behind , penned by former Canberra guitarist Julian Abrahams, for the band's third album.
But it's the sun - not the stars - that are blamed for the regret fuelled faded embers of love for the male lead.
It segues into A Thousand Bullets where Abrahams' character doesn't fare much better so he drowns his heartbreak in alcohol and finds the album title in the chorus of his road odyssey after his belle decamped in the “midnight breeze.”
FLAMES OF HISTORY ERUPT IN CYBER SPACE
“I see that you're online again, more pictures of your kids/ your oldest started high school and he looks a lot like him/ but every now and then I'll see your face and fall in love again.” - The Flames of You And I - Nick Keeling-Julian Abrahams-Paddy Montgomery.
This year's appearance at the famed Telluride bluegrass festival in Colorado and the 2014 World Of Bluegrass Conference & Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina, during a 60-date tour in 70 days playing 43 states, were major success catalysts.
It also enabled recruitment of Iowa-born Dobro ace Randy Kohrs and North Carolina fiddler Jimmy Van Cleve, who did time in Quicksilve r and Mountain Heart, for this disc.
The quartet also won the 2015 bluegrass Golden Guitar instrumental in Tamworth in January for their tune Candle Creek .
They use shovels, spades and an anvil - not the trusted bluegrass hammer and nails - for enduring strength in Honesty .
Their video, filmed on the popular go-kart track in the shadows of the West Gate Bridge, featured a memorable solitary door but not the one that locked them in the Old Geelong Gaol for previous video Cruel Alibis .
AUDRA MAE – TIME TRAVEL
“If you woke up 10 years later in the bed that you're sleeping in, would you be content?/ if you woke up 10 years later with the one you're living with, would you have regrets?” - The Future - Nick Keeling.
It seems fitting that Oklahoma oriole Audra Mae is the guest vocalist on Keeling's time travel tune The Future that exults spontaneity and maybe even serendipity.
Audra is the great-great-niece of the late Judy Garland and great granddaughter of Garland's sister Jimmie.
She sang Dylan tune Forever Young in Sons Of Anarchy that also featured Shooter Jennings former actress partner Drea De Matteo, best known for her roles in The Sopranos and Joey .
Audra, now 31, wrote Little Red Wagon - a Top 20 hit for Texan star Miranda Lambert on her 2014 album Platinum.
She also teamed with Avicii to sing her cover of Feeling Good by Nina Simone and Avicii's tune Touch Me for his album Stories.
Accidental love heralds the Godless gallop down the home straight here on Abrahams hedonistic Burning Bridges where his character chooses to enjoy the present and purge the past.
It segues into fitting finale Worry - where the listeners are urged to take the plunge into love with no regrets - for a band whose members met studying jazz.
Don't get the impression this is a morose missile.
The band's joyous and dynamic delivery ensures this should win them more awards and, on a level radio playing field - even airplay.
“Burning bridges as I roam/ between town and country roads/ the flames of anger will die down/ when that bridge burns to the ground.” - Burning Bridges - Julian Abrahams.
The band morphed into bluegrass from its jazz embryo many moons ago but didn't burn its bridges with the past.
Keeling and Abrahams decided to explore bluegrass and recruited the latter member's house mate double bassist Josh Bridges.
Their self-titled 2011 disc featured pop songs with bluegrass instrumentation - a concept that Sydney band The Pigs also did with a relish.
Bridges says the new disc, produced by Forrester Savell, and featuring three part harmonies has an eclectic base.
“We've kind of freed up the reins a little bit and we didn't really cut any genres out, you know?” Bridges explained.
“We really opened up and threw a lot of ideas together."
Keeling expanded on the band's evolution.
“It's a big sound. We've kept the bluegrass thing at its core for sure - every track is acoustic guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro,” Keeling says.
“But then we built more around that which was one of the visions that we had for a long time, to orchestrate things a lot more. There is timpani, tubular bells, marimba, horns, organ, electric pianos, electric guitars and some other exotic instruments. Oh, and drums! It's definitely the next evolution of the sound - I would describe it as bluegrass with indie/Americana/folk/rock stuff that we don't know has been done before, but it's worth a try. It's still the same at the core. We try to write good songs. The vocal harmonies that we've really focused on for the past four years are still the main feature and the picking is still underneath and in the breaks to tantalise the ears. There's just a lot more textures.”