Unrepentant Country Outlaws
Rattlehand with The Merri Creek Pickers, Sunday 12 February, Empress Hotel
Written by McKinley Valentine | Photographs by Steve Martin
They kick off with the first single off their self-titled album, I’m Doin’ Fine. Hard-rocking country blues – there’s some pain in the lyrics, but it doesn’t stop you dancing. And, oh my, can Steve Wallis blow that harp.
Rattlehand are firmly planted in the outlaw-country tradition. My favourite song of the night, Money for Jam, is about drinking cheap whiskey, making music on the street, being flat broke and not giving a damn. They feel the consequences in the follow-up Sunday Night Blues, but they’re unrepentant.
Rattlehand were supported by garage soul outfit The Perfections, and those good ol’ boys, the Merri Creek Pickers. There’s a reason the Pickers are able to play as often as they do and still attract a good crowd every time. You never know what kind of show you’re in for, especially since they went electric last year. Today they seem to be tailoring their setlist to fit the style of Rattlehand: a little bit of honky-tonk, a little bit of blues. None of the intricate, psychedelic jams which they’re increasingly known for, just high energy, feel-good tunes.
I’m consistently stunned by the fingerwork from each of the Pickers. From Pete Convery’s bass, through electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, up to the high notes of Donald Sargood’s mandolin, each instrument shines through without ever getting in the way of the others. It’s a sound that can’t be faked; only years of playing together builds that kind of intuitive interplay.
Rattlehand were supported by the Pickers last time they were in Melbourne, at Collingwood’s Old Bar. Frontman Josh Shelton tells me there isn’t any venue like it in Brisbane – that there aren’t many people there doing the music they do. I asked him if it was at least getting better. “It’s getting worse.”
Any time you want to move to Melbourne, Rattlehand, we’ll be waiting. You can stay on Unpaved’s couch.