Hip To Be Country (June 2014)

For two years now I’ve been writing this column, and each month I’m forced to think about exactly which type of country music I’m going to focus upon this time round. I’m always spoiled for choice. Country music is a broad genre – and these days even Snoop Dog readily admits to country leanings. This month I’m able to keep it local and cover just about the full spectrum of the genre, thanks to some excellent Victorian releases.

I’ve known Harry Hookey for a little while. We met in Nashville, Tennessee in 2011 when we both attended the Americana Music Association Festival and Conference with Sounds Australia. I was surprised to learn at the time that Harry was a Melbourne boy, mainly due to the fact that I hadn’t come across him or his music before. When I saw him perform that year I thought he was pretty good, but when I saw him late last year in Tasmania supporting Busby Marou I was seriously impressed. It’s hardly surprising to see that Harry has now released his debut album, produced by Nash Chambers (Kasey’s brother) and featuring some of the most provocative artwork ever seen in Australian Country Music. The music itself certainly stretches the definition of country (which, incidentally, does not bother me at all), sitting somewhere between The Whitlams and Mumford and Sons. It has a contemporary feel, and the songwriting and storytelling is sound. The album is called Misdiagnosed and is out now and available in good record stores.

Another excellent Victorian (though actually a Brit by birth) is Justin Bernascone of Melbourne alt-country band The Stillsons. Justin’s new solo album, Winter Pick, features both his trademark fine acoustic guitar playing and world-weary troubadour voice. Notably, it also features instrumental tracks – not a common thing these days – but highly enjoyable nonetheless. Justin launches the album at The Thornbury Theatre on August 3rd.

Equally strong instrumentalists are bluegrass champions The Davidson Brothers. Still young, The Davos are Australian country music veterans with Golden Guitars and International Bluegrass Awards already under their belts. Their new album Wanderlust was recorded at Melbourne’s famed Sing Sing Recording Studios and will be launched at The Corner Hotel on Friday June 20th with special guests Sweet Jean and Fanny Lumsden (both worth the price of admission on their own). I haven’t yet heard Wanderlust yet, but if recent live shows are any indication expect some great traditional sounds, virtuosic playing and the unique Australian sense of humour that has always differentiated these guys from their nu-grass contemporaries.

Finally, a very local recommendation: Americana sweethearts (and column favourites) The Weeping Willows are returning to their old haunt at T’Gallant Winery on Sundays June 8, 15 and 22. The duo has been touring non-stop the last few months and will be in fine form!

Lachlan Bryan is primarily a singer/songwriter. His third album Black Coffee is out now. He also moonlights as a gifted observer and music journalist, writing monthly for PEARL Magazine on all things folk/country/bluegrass.