Reviews

The Dirty Three: 26 January 2010 - Sydney

The Dirty Three manage to create a distinctly Australian musical narrative, all without so much as a word being sung.

The Dirty Three

The Dirty Three

City: Sydney
Venue: Enmore Theatre
Date: 2010-01-26

Even if you’ve never heard of the Dirty Three, chances are that you’ve unwittingly come across one or more of them in your travels: those hidden tracks on the first X-Files album; the violin on Cat Power’s “Good Woman” which came courtesy of Warren Ellis, nominal head of the Three; their collective curation of one weekend of the 2007 UK All Tomorrow’s Parties festival; Mick Turner and Jim White (guitar and drums respectively) having appeared as backing musicians for the likes of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and PJ Harvey, and Ellis being a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. In short, they’re a band that gets around.

With this being Australia Day (basically like the fourth of July, but with even more barbecued meat and beer) we managed to miss openers Laughing Clowns run through their History of Rock ‘n’ Roll Volume 1 album, which I am still kicking myself for. At the time, we stumbled into an incredibly packed Enmore Theatre without a second thought for what we’d missed. There were more people jammed in tonight than I had ever seen before, even for big international acts, which give some indication as to the esteem in which this band are held by their rabidly devoted fans.

The crowd response when the Three finally took the stage was rapturous. Ellis looked like a rock’n’roll Rasputin, his giant unkempt beard dominating his face, and he came on with a charm offensive worthy of the mad monk himself. Throughout the night Ellis’ stage banter would liven up the proceedings considerably, providing context and humor to the exclusively instrumental songs. Judging by Ellis’ own explanations of the songs, it seems that most of them are somehow related to rampant substance abuse, or were otherwise opining the fact that his substance abuse wasn’t rampant enough.

Tonight the band performed their classic Ocean Songs album in its entirety as part of the Don’t Look Back series of concerts, an event that had been eagerly anticipated, at least judging from the atmosphere amongst the crowd. As an album, Ocean Songs sounds, well, oceanic. To borrow from David Fricke’s review of the album for Rolling Stone, the band plays with “Such taut Adagio sensuality…that at times the music seems to freeze in mid-rapture”.

In the flesh the band brought a stormy temperament to the previously placid songs, re-capturing some of the fiery playing that made their earlier albums such raucous treasures, and Ellis himself was thrashing about like a tempest. He would frequently high-kick the air, and I’m talking some seriously balletic shit here, which is rumored to be some kind of signal to his band mates. The band was lit heavily from behind, casting eerie, demonic shadows on the high walls of the theatre. There could hardly have been a simpler or more fitting dramatic effect for a band that seems to be calling something shapeless and nameless into being as they play.

It is no mean feat to keep someone with as short an attention span as me interested for any great period of time without the benefit of lyrical stimulation, but the Dirty Three have a hypnotic, engrossing way about them that draws you into the fabric of the music. At no point did I find myself clock-watching or wishing the night away, as I did recently with a currently critically acclaimed group who shall remain nameless. OK it was Grizzly Bear, and while many people can’t speak highly enough of them, some whose opinion I quite respect, I do not apologise for the fact that I just don’t see it. Seriously, not even “Knife” does it for me.

As the night drew to a close I found myself with an unusual feeling stirring within. I am not usually the type for anything more than a casual sense of national pride, but tonight I was definitely proud that a group of musicians the caliber of these guys were from the same patch of earth as myself. They manage to create a distinctly Australian musical narrative, and all without so much as a word being sung.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image