2015 CD REVIEW
MEN FROM EARTH
WILDWOOD ECHOES (RIVERSONG-MGM).
WILDWOOD ECHOES RESONATE BEYOND MEN FROM EARTH
“From my window I can see/ when the grey cloud scatters/ and the blue sky shines on me/ there's a light at the end of the tunnel.” - Shine - Scott Bird.
Back in the sixties the North West Coast of Van Diemens Land was not a roots country nirvana - quite a few innovative young rock acts brightened the embryo of my 50 year journalistic journey that began as a teenage cadet on the Launceston Examiner.
I even had the pleasure of naming Launceston soul pop group The Children Of Zen to reflect the era.
But Men From Earth, who share their name with the fourth album by pioneer seventies country rockers The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, were not yet on terra firma.
Not to worry - the band's major songwriter Scott Bird was raised in Penguin, due east of Burnie where I finished my cadetship running the Examiner's north-west outpost in 1968.
So it's fitting that penguins and maremma sheep dogs are now ruling the movie roost at Warrnambool on the Shipwreck Coast of Victoria where I was born.
Bird grew up in the foothills of Tasmania 's Dial Range where some of Australia 's oldest farm land meets the equally perilous southern shores of Bass Strait.
Penguin is also where I interviewed local pop group Dr Livingston's Rescue Party in 1968, due east of where Burnie's Abel Tazz Men and Ivy Cottage battled with Hobart bands The Brotherhood Of Myrtle and Clockwork Oringe and Launceston rivals Tangerine Cobweb, Life, The Rejected and Sons Of Bacchus .
But Bird, fiercely proud of his Koori-Irish ancestry, was just 18 when he flew his foothills coop decades later for the mainland after starting his first band at 12.
He has since honed his writing in a vast variety of bands including three albums and two EPS with the Pale Riders and solo album Riversong.
Bird spread his wings, teaching music on the NSW Central Coast in 1998 at Erina with his masters in acoustic, electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, bass, drums, percussion, harmonica and didgeridoo.
He played harp on Catherine Britt's single I Want You Back and the Little Hillbillies album and harmonica and banjo on discs by Kasey Chambers, Beccy Cole, Luke Dickens and Paul Costa.
Bird also flew into action as the vampire in Shane Nicholson's video for Jimmie Rogers Was A Vampire and landed four songs on Chris E Thomas's 2012 album Monkey Off My Back , replete with cameos on banjo, harp, washboard and stomp-box.
But that was then and now Bird's partners in rhyme are guitarist Luke Wright, 29, also mandocello, mandolinist-banjo player Tom Beasley, 21, and Robert Patey-Downes, 62, on percussion.
Bird met his drummer at a party and mentored his younger protégés.
All add their vocals and James Gillard added double bass in Alberts Studio in Sydney with producer Andrew Beck.
DESTINY – THE NAME OF THE GAME
“Ain't got much to give you, ain't that much to leave when I'm gone/ all that I can offer is heart that held you near and travelled on/ your hand holds the cards that fate has dealt, you play em while you can/ destiny is how we choose to play the game, your life is in your hands.” - Gone - Scott Bird
OK that's the roots of Men From Earth - what about the music?
Well, the quartet paints its vibrant vignettes against a bucolic backdrop that makes the most of our vast nation with its majestic mountains and valleys, rivers and streams.
Their entree is the Bird-Beasley collaboration on Dark Hollow where the dreams begin with a lonesome song and end with a shared sequence that segues into what might appear an abrupt end in Rest In Peace .
But, no, this is a pleasant pit-stop where life's tired travellers lay down their weary heads for joyous renewal under uplifting stars “painted on a black midwinter sky” as they all become a saviour “who ride in and saves the day.”
Rain is not the enemy, especially for farmers, but it can suffocate the heart of a drowning man until blue skies illuminate lights at the end of the tunnel in Shine that is accompanied by a video what we feature in our summer series.
There's not just light but freedom awaiting travellers in The Crossing where both forks at the end of a winding road lead to the river out of the reach of black snakes.
That river reaches beyond a sun kissed meadow and wind swept song in the reciprocal love warmth of Brothers And Sisters .
But there is more danger lurking in Wayward Son where a grief stricken parent pleaded with a male offspring to lay down his guns and spare his mother tears on the “cold, cold ground.”
The traveller again finds solace in Old Dogs with his old guitar, aged canine and a pretty little girl “waiting down that road.”
But there's danger lurking on Fire On The Mountain - not the 1978 Grateful Dead song or 1974 Charlie Daniels album title.
This is a Bird warning about the aftermath of a lightning strike that leads into his ecological plea Wildwood Echoes where a paternal warning is heeded - “never take too much, leave enough for another day, that's the wildwood way, time stands, still my friend.”
Perhaps a polite Tasmanian way of saying frack off and a sibling song of sorts of Gone.
WALK WITH GIANTS AFTER A THREE DOG NIGHT
“Do you remember when the river sang, can you still recall/ the mighty mountain pine that stood, when Jesus Christ was born.” - Walk With Giants - Scott Bird.
Life is resurrected in Roll On The Breeze and warmed in the rush of a moonshiner seeking heat in the aftermath of the storm and snow melt of Three Dog Night .
A fitting finale, perhaps, is the ecumenical Walk With Giants where “before time, dreamtime, giants walked with men/ remember, stand strong, stand tall/ live long, recall/ stand strong, walk tall/ remember, pride comes before a fall.”
It's a long ascent from the surf-swept beaches of Penguin to mainland mountain peaks but Bird and his flock have made the journey - without any hype.
It's the latest resting place on the famed Lost Highway that also included his Pale Rider flowering.
"It was exciting because at the time we were doing something different and it was developed live without a safety net, forged in the uncompromising Sydney live scene,” Bird recalled.
“I was listening to a lot of John Lee Hooker then and a part of his sound was the clacking of bottle caps on the bottom of his shoes. I loved that. I did a show with Rick and John Brewster around the time that they reformed the Moonshine Jug and String Band and played Rick's washboard. Halfway through a show I started booting an acoustic guitar case and from that fortuitous moment developed the rhythm section for the Pale Riders sound. To the best of my knowledge we made the first professional electric stomp box in Australia .”
BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN THE VALLEY
“The wind is my brother, my sister is the song/ rolling through the valley/ rolling on and on/ oh, rolling on and on/ my brother is the mountain, my sister is the sun/ a jewel on the meadow/ she'll keep me warm/ oh she keeps me warm.” - Brothers And Sisters - Scott Bird.
Bird says his Men From Earth owes its soul to an affiliation with its roots.
“It functions like a village,” Bird explained.
“There are apprentices, journeymen and craft masters. Each role blends together to create a beautiful exchange of energy.” Though Bird is the pilot of Men From Earth the spiritual leader is The Valley.
“I grew up in a physical environment that left an indelible mark on my soul,” Bird confides.
“I come from the wild places and through my music, I endeavour to recreate this physical space and transport the listener into these surroundings.”
That included a mud ceremony - something enjoyed by most football teams in Van Diemens Land.
I made that a little easy for the Burnie Police football team in the sixties - I persuaded the Launceston Examiner to provide their football jumpers with Examiner branding.
Bird's band bonding was more spiritual.
“There is nothing quite like being immersed in the earth that inspired the music," he added.
The music is deeply rooted in the earth, mountains and rivers inspired by The Valley - a 185-acre stretch of wilderness on the Wilmot River , half way between the coast and Cradle Mountain in northern Tasmania .
Bird and wife-artistic soul-mate Trudi bought the land in 2002 from the original custodial family - caretakers since the 1800's.
Bird has a powerful passion for luring listeners to The Valley via his band's music.
“It's definitely a culmination of my life's work up to this point, my dreaming. In a broader sense, I would like to bring peace, love and respect for the land to all my earthly brothers and sisters.”