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Chad's Tree

Crossing Off the Miles

(Memorandum; US: 6 Jul 2010; UK: 6 Jul 2010)

Australian indie rockers on CD for the first time

There’s a 32-page booklet included in this comprehensive two-disc retrospective of Austalian alternative rockers Chad’s Tree, one that collects photos and essays from just about everyone associated with the band during its heyday in the 1980s. That’s a good thing, at least for me, because I had never heard of them. Despite enjoying critical praise and a semi-rabid fan base, the band never made it big outside of Australia. This compilation marks the first time the music has been available on CD. In other words, AC/DC they ain’t. Or even Men At Work.


Which is just fine with them, I suspect. Hailing from Perth in Australia’s far west, the band built up a following in the lively local music scene—one which included such bands as the Triffids—before traveling to Sydney in the mid-‘80s to record two albums, play countless gigs, and eventually disband. This 37-track compilation collects both albums, plus a handful of singles, another handful of demos, and a few live cuts. As far as I can tell, this is more or less everything the band ever put to tape.


Confusingly, the songs are not arranged in chronological order, so the first single the band ever recorded, “Crush the Lily”, is number 11 on the first disc. (It follows the ten-track debut album, Buckle in the Rail, which was released well after the “Crush the Lily” single.) In any case, Buckle in the Rail is what one hears first after popping the disc into the player, and “Sweet Jesus Blue Eyes” comes bubbling forth, awash in acoustic guitar and mournful violin.


In this song, as in nearly every other, the most arresting sound is that of Mark Snarski’s voice. The founder and main songwriter for the band, Snarski possesses a throaty baritone that carries these songs for better or worse and dominates even the noisiest of them. Not that they are especially noisy: despite the energetic drumming of James Hurst and twangy guitars of Mark’s brother Robert, the fiddle playing of Susan Grigg lends a folkie air to such tunes as “The Magician” and “The Vintage of St. Helen’s”.


Other songs range from bluesy rockers like “Carve It in Wood” to slower, moodier numbers such as “Heatwater Train” and “Entangled Vines”. The band’s sound changes markedly from its debut album to the second, Kerosene. The same variety of tempos and approaches is there, only more so: the guitars are brighter, and the palette of sounds has expanded to include xylophone, harmonica, keyboards, and trumpet. Snarski’s voice sounds a little calmer, too, while backing vocals from Kathy Wemyss serve to smooth off more rough edges. In a nutshell, that sums up the shift from the first album to the second: fewer rough edges. That said, “North to South” rocks pretty convincingly.


Listeners searching for a musical touchstone could do worse than Midnight Oil; Snarski’s voice shares a certain full-throated urgency with Peter Garrett’s, and the jagged guitars lend sonic textures ranging from spiky to gentle. Ultimately, it is that voice that will deterrmine the listener’s response: in this band, more than most, the singer is the song.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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