How’s this for a most astonishing example of globalization? A record of an Australian singer-songwriter playing roots music reviewed by a Malaysian that was released all the way in early 2003, already then heralded as one of the essential Americana albums of the year by several publications, but now only unveiled to the world at large via online means in mid-2005.
And more astonishingly, what if I proclaim that amongst the multitude of Dylan pretenders out there, the non-dirty South Down Under Karl Broadie is among the most notable of the lot? Despite being far removed from the genre’s hinterland, Broadie has somehow managed to distill the very defining traits of the genre – which are soul and sensitivity – and heap generous shitloads of it on the 15 tracks of Nowhere, Now Here. As a result, far removed from his homeland of beer, footy and Vegemite, Broadie has actually crafted one of the finer examples of Americana that I have heard thus far.
Broadie is found in the Damien Rice School of singing-songwriting. In other words, though he may not possess the Dylan/Cohen gift of lyricism — where he errs on the side of simplicity — his quivering throaty-yet-polished voice that displays sheer gripping earnestness more than compensates for his wordplay shortcomings. Furthermore, his knack for invasive melody is the type that infiltrates one’s soul upon mere lazy listening, an atmosphere of intimacy that is capable of gently lifting the listener’s weariness. It is manipulative seduction, granted, but it is so easy to fall prey to its calculated deception, willingly reduced to a pawn of pleasure.
The opener “Keep Me on Your Mind” demonstrates his penchant for tunefulness. It starts of with a flurry of fiddles, entrancing into a jig where he seemingly dances to his lover’s tune. Then, Broadie starts crooning, not singing mind you, an understated delivery evoking hazy evening nights on well-worn coaches. In other words, he is channeling intimacy through euphonic means. The arrangement maybe alt-country, albeit leaning towards country, but the heart-on-sleeve approach is of a rock star singing his heart our on a cheesy power ballad. Think Axel Rose with a cowboy hat and high on affection instead of drugs.
The culmination of all his performing strengths lies in the song “Paperback Book”. It starts of with lazy strumming, the hallmark of a master storyteller who draws attention away from the minimal music to his redolent lyrics. However, Broadie succeeds in adding something beyond that. Because, when greats like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon’s name are incanted, their arrangements, though sparse, have a compressed sense of melodiousness. Broadie belongs to that realm. The one great example is when the layers – fiddles, guitar and all, segues nicely into the lyrical climax of “there’s no shame in walking”, an affirmation of a man who equates wanderlust with love, the first step towards moving on.
If there is one caveat, it is the old adage that ‘too much honey is bad for the soul’. It’s the overriding weakness of the singer-songwriter genre, really, when one song features the weaving of masterful dynamics and tuneful melodies, its subsequent repetition is the musical equivalent of cruise control. To Broadie’s credit, however, he does temper the threat of overexposure with a cushion of mildness, pleasantries that ensure the whole ride to be reverie instead of revulsion.
Nowhere, Now Here is one of the better entries into the singer-songwriter genre. Though offering nothing new, the earnest delivery presses all the right buttons and introduces a sense of polished accomplishment in terms of lyrics and arrangement. It’s formulaic perfection, if you will. As it stands however, an Aussie has created a darn good Americana record.