Ever wondered what sepia tone sounds like" Well this album is probably the closest you can get just short of watching O Brother, Where Art Thou
. Taking a break from fronting his mega-successful band Powderfinger, Aussie rock veteran Bernard Fanning has packed up his gear, flown the coop, and produced a record that wouldn’t be out of place in the lower swamps of Mississippi circa 1927. The amount of southern influence found in this little charmer of a CD is staggering. Just listening to the opening seconds of pleasant opener Thrill is Gone
, Bernard’s intentions (and influences) are clear. This is the roots album he always promised - tinged with folk and sprinkled with old Americana. His band Powdefinger are named after a Neil Young song after all.
As mentioned before, for the making of this record, Fanning packed his bags and headed to a lovely town called Bath (which – rather ironically – is in England) and teamed up with veteran producer Tchad Blake of Crowded House and Pearl Jam fame. The highly creative Blake is renowned for producing bizarre mixes and seemingly unusual instruments and techniques in the studio, and this is all evident in the final product, which is rich with rustic charm and acoustic wonderment. Pop-tastic single Wish You Well
being a fitting example.
Last year, this particular leading single hit the radio and success ensued. The stations loved it. It had everything. It was catchy, it was popular with the squeaky-clean teens, but most of all, it was incredibly short. At two and half minutes, program managers across the country finally had a convenient plug-hole track to fill that last two minutes before the hourly news. This ensured that if you flicked through the waves constantly, you’d be guaranteed to hear it on the hour. Other artists would only dream of this kind of airplay. Seriously. It was getting flogged. Not bad for a song that was actually an afterthought addition and only just made the record. The huge (and dare I say unanticipated) success of this song prompted Bernard’s management to quickly add a follow-up single, the gorgeous Songbird
, to the waves. This wasn’t the standard light-pop affair that its predecessor turned out to be though. Seriously, other than The Corrs’ entire catalogue (which is mostly rubbish anyway), how many pop songs on the radio today have fiddle solos" It was this unique and original approach to songwriting that made certain his tunes would stand out amongst the likes of Nickelback’s boring photographs and the Black Eyed Peas insipidly banal “humps”. Bernard was doing it his
way, and he was giving Will.I.Am and company a run for their money.
The singles, though lovely, are far from the most remarkable moments on the album though. One of the things at centre stage on this record is Bernard’s amazingly luminous and instantly recognizable vocals. His work on album track Further Down the Road
(which was originally a Powderfinger reject) is flawless. The subtle instrumentation guarantees his voice shines above all else in this beautiful tune. Not surprised to learn that the band wanted the song back when they heard his first demo! Heart-wrenching ballad Not Finished Just Yet
also puts the Fanning vocals front and centre, although the bluegrass inspired harmonica solo (performed amicably by the man himself) rightfully steals some of the limelight back. Possibly a future single this one, which is performed impeccably live.
An electric guitar is never too far away though. Rock-fuelled Which Way Home
is the type of ballsy blues track Powderfinger fans know all too well. With its infectious riff and wonderful chorus, it would fit snugly on a ‘finger record. Crowded House hopeful Strangest Thing
has a similar feel, yet a bulging heart to match. Just when you’re set to reach for the tissues, you’ll feel an overwhelming sensation to tap your feet. Like all great musician’s, Bernard seems to boast this innate ability to swiftly pass through different genre’s with little effort.
It isn’t all profound though, with happy moments like the surprisingly catchy Yesterday’s Gone
providing the same kind of warmth you would only find in a gas oven commercial, or the Cheers
theme song, but with only half the cheese. I say that because while this particular diddy is just lovely and well intended, with all the random clapping and well-worn lyrics, you’ll still find yourself picking the corn from the teeth. Then again, pretty much every band has had a moment like that. Anyone remember a Led Zeppelin song called Hotdog" (which Bernard ironically likes to play live)
Cheeses aside, by far the most enigmatic moment on the whole record is the utterly inspiring Down to the River
. It floats along – lovely as you like – before hitting you with a pounding sound scape of thundering drums and distorted guitars, with Bernard’s enigmatic vocals only adding to the intense experience. All of a sudden, the harmonica’s back in, and we’re again floating along – lovely as you like. I dare you to listen to it and not
get shivers down the spine. Closing track Watch Over Me
will also make you go all a quiver, with it’s simple premise (one man and an acoustic guitar), and Bernard’s voice again
shining throughout. It’s the only hard copy single from the record (the others were only radio singles to promote interest in the album), with 100% (that’s all
) of the profits going to charity. What a freakin’ legend. Unfortunately, the radio stayed away from this beautiful track, opting for more routine material to please the members of generation NOW!!!!!
, who would prefer to sit through P!nk or those friggin’ Veronica’s as opposed to “that boring song by that ugly guy from that band”. Max Martin can suck my ridges.
Back on topic, Bernard’s band Powderfinger have always had a reputation of making strange choices when it comes to singles. Not surprisingly, Fanning continues this institution and has left out some rather obvious hits that could have flooded the air-waves much like Greenday’s entire catalogue (from American Idiot at least). It seems the awesome Sleeping Rough
(which is the best song on the album, don’t you know!) will have to remain a hidden gem, along with the Finn brothers inspired Wash Me Clean
and the aforementioned Which Way Home
. Talk about wasted opportunity!!!
This doesn’t have any bearing on the brilliance of the album though, with Bernard’s remarkable song-writing skills concreting his place as leader of the Aussie singer-songwriter spectrum, ahead of the kinda dull Pete Murray and “that precocious little ****” Ben Lee (Bernard’s words, not mine). The commendable debut effort here is just what you’d expect from this classy veteran, who has the ability to warm you heart, and then break it, all in the one song. Whether you’d agree or not, one thing’s for sure – the next Powderfinger record is in very good hands.