Review Summary: With guitar and harmonica in hand, Kim Churchill sets out to cement his place in the Australian folk music scene. He succeeds, not always spectacularly, but enough for him to be able to command a decent amount of respect nonetheless.
Kim Churchill is a coastal boy, having grown up right on the shoreline of New South Wales, Australia. Just saying that should immediately conjure appropriate images for you. His lifestyle fits his music, occasionally energetic but most of the time just chill. For the most part With Sword and Shield
is just Churchill finger-picking his guitar, sometimes he adds a harmonica or a drum kit, and a few random instruments here and there (a cello in “Spending My Soul” for example) but overall his debut is a bare-bones affair. Generally this style either makes or breaks an artist, all too often they just don’t have the charisma or the talent to keep the listener interested over the course of an album. Churchill does thankfully carry that necessary charisma and talent, even if things do get a little repetitive towards the end of the album.
Bob Dylan and John Butler are the most obvious influences for Churchill’s guitar playing, which ranges from chilled out finger-picking to frantic strumming. He really does have a talent in that area, happily celebrating his idols while also creating his own distinct sound. Part of that distinct sound is the rhythms he drums into his guitar on occasion, which are actually surprisingly complex and remarkable. No song better demonstrates this then the opener, “This System”, which also ends up displaying a lot of his other talents. During the intro Churchill rolls and bangs his fingers across the board of the guitar while simultaneously strumming sporadically and forcefully. It’s an excellent, unique sound and a brilliant way to kick off the album.
His lyrics and vocals are much the same. He’s always passionate, but when the music gets going he follows it, like when he shouts “I’m not getting old” in “This System”. On those occasions there’s no denying that his voice is powerful, distinctly nasally with subtle, rougher undertones. When he’s more subdued he shines as well though, such as the darker “When The Wattle Blooms” where he whispers almost bitterly “how strange that they must take this land in the same way it was snatched from their hands, life it seems is full of turning rings.”
Unfortunately Churchill’s creativity begins to run dry towards the end of [WSaS
. Running On’s soaring vocal melody sounds suspiciously similar to the one on “Loving Home” and the combination of stomping rhythms, kookaburra like harmonica, and shouting vocals on “Sunshine Shore” resemble “This System” too closely for comfort. It’s a shame because if those tracks hadn’t been present this would have been much stronger release.
Having said that, With Sword and Shield
is a strong release. It clearly demonstrates Churchill’s abilities, his influences (at one point he even makes a direct reference to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”) and his own distinctive traits, and uses them to their full extent. He’s already toured with the likes of The John Butler Trio, maybe in a few years time he’ll be head-lining the shows. I have no doubt he’s capable of that.