Envoking powerful spirits
Reviewed by Les Thomas
No figure from Australia’s past looms in the popular imagination like Ned Kelly. For or against, everyone has an opinion on him. The gentle and meandering title track of Bill Jackson’s new album doesn’t seek to make a case either way, but it’s a testament to how much the Kelly story is absorbed into the atmosphere in this part of the world – and the yearnings of Kelly and his comrades in arms still resonate for many. The outlaw’s story is revisited later in the album with the song Joe Byrne about the gang’s most literate and poetic members. A great choice of subject given that Joe himself wrote bush ballads while the gang were on the run, after all, and he’s widely assumed to have penned the Jerilderie letter.
You don’t have to be a Kelly fanatic to enjoy this album, though. The feeling that pervades is one of loving dedication to songcraft, especially in the Texas tradition, were story rather than vocal perfection is primary. Think Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle, then add to that pristine production, with most of the recording being done in Nashville.
Time spent on the trail of his State-side musical heroes in places like Austin is well documented in Eggs Over Easy which describes an immersion in a wonderfully experience, but also an inescapbale longing for home.
Big Rivers is a standout, with a chorus singing up the magnificence of rivers from the Thompson, the Kimberely to the Mississippi. The addition of Pete Fidler’s dobro playing adds delicious musicality. Some critics may complain of Jackson’s adoption of a vernacular American accent on words like “po-leece”, but there’s a higher authenticity and honesty here that can only enrich Australian country-folk music.