COUNTRY IN THE CONVICT CAPITAL

As another summer draws its jasmine-perfumed blanket of humidity and a cloak of jacaranda blooms down upon the streets of Sydney, it seems there’s little for your columnist to do but to reflect on the year that was. On a preparatory note, I’m happy to report that I have yet to lose my footing on a slick of half-mashed purple petals on the footpath, which, as many of you will be all too painfully aware, has long been Sydney’s own sadistic slant on the banana-peel gag. Happier still, it goes without saying that 2017 has been an exceptional year for new Australian country music.

Fanny Lumsden’s hotly anticipated sophomore outing Real Class Act delivered on every intoxicating promise, as did album number three from guitar slinging sophisticates Raised By Eagles earlier in the year. Sydney’s own bluegrass trailblazers The Morrisons delivered their magnificent self-titled debut, while Melbourne’s Gretta Ziller also made a stunning debut with Queen of Boomtown. The Woodland Hunters shone with Let’s Fall Apart, while Shane Nicholson’s profound insights on the human condition made Hell Breaks Loose one of the year’s most consistently rewarding listens, and Sandra Humphries kept the honkytonk torch a-flame with her glorious Walk In Circles. O’Shea charted infectious new heights in country-soul with 61-615; captivating storyteller Kalesti Butler’s second album Airborne soared at the opening of the year, while country-pop breakout Melanie Dyer recently premiered irresistible solo debut Fresh. The Ahern Brothers (Steve Grady and Josh Rennie-Hynes) launched a self-titled debut of impeccable poise, and also debuting with an engrossing show of songwriting mastery were Carpenter Caswell, whose self-titled album will captivate fans of Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell and beyond. Likewise on debut, All Our Exes Live In Texas’ delivered their gorgeous When We Fall LP, setting a new standard for preternatural vocal harmonies and compulsive songcraft.

From across the Pacific – and surprising no one – Margo Price delivered another instant classic in All American Made, while David Rawlings’ Poor David’s Almanack has been on regular rotation at Country Capital HQ since September, as has Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit’s towering The Nashville Sound since June.

The year’s unexpected discoveries have been many and varied, but few so memorable as Valerie June’s engrossing opening set at the Enmore Theatre in October (June warmed up the crowd for Old Crow Medicine Show, whose riotous 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde show was another live highlight for the year). For sheer Aquarian wonderment and penetrating vocal phrasing, June’s was a mesmeric performance. Released earlier in the year, her The Order of Time sets a perfect tone for the lengthening days and balmy evenings of the encroaching season.

And not forgetting Country Capital favourite Tom Dockray, who has a killer new track out in ‘Here’s To You (And Me)’ – if you haven’t already, be sure to give it a spin!

While the usually bustling live scene is slowing somewhat as Christmas approaches – not to mention another colossal Tamworth Festival on the near horizon – there’s still plenty of opportunity to catch some killer live shows this festive season.

The wonderful Katie Brianna and Jemma Nicole join forces at the Golden Barley Hotel in Enmore on 7 December, kicking off at 8:00pm. Leadbelly Newtown hosts another instalment of the always-excellent Ramblin’ Nights on 17 January, featuring Rich Davies & The Low Road, The Weeping Willows, and Peta Caswell, while The East Pointers are at Marrickville’s Factory Theatre on 6 January, and Sweden’s First Aid Kit take to the Enmore Theatre on 3 April.

Rooty Hill RSL hosts a massive night of country-rock with its Rockin’ Country Christmas Party event on 16 December, featuring Christie Lamb, Viper Creek Band, and Troy Kemp.

The Bunker at Coogee Diggers has Angeleno trad-country sensation Sam Outlaw (USA) on 3 December, along with rising star Courtney Marie Andrews (USA). Outlaw and Andrews also play Marrickville’s Camelot Lounge on 3 December. Also at Camelot Lounge are blues duo Joe Filisko and Eric Noden (USA) on 11 January, while Sister venue Django Bar hosts old-time and bluegrass ensemble Molsky’s Mountain Drifters (USA) on 7 January.

Diesel is at Cronulla’s Brass Monkey on 8 and 9 December, before the venue hosts Bad Moon Rising – A Tribute to Creedence Clearwater Revival on 20 January, Cash LiveThe Concert Experience on 2 February, and The Eagles Show…Heart of the Matter on 3 March. Back in the Inner West, The Lazy Crows are at LazyBones in Marrickville on 28 January.

Lizotte’s has Lazy Sunday Lunch with Beccy Cole on 10 December, while the Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL has your post-Tamworth comedown covered with its annual Tamworth Recovery Party on 8 February, featuring Allan Caswell, Neilly Rich and Sharnee Fenwick, along with hosts Bob Howe and Nicki Gillis plus the Hillbilly Heaven Band.

If you haven’t already, be sure to get along to Redfern’s the Bearded Tit for Post To Wire’s monthly Red-Eyed and Blue afternoons, which have featured a slew of great acts in recent months, including Jason Walker, The Ramalamas, Tawny Owl Stringband, That Red Head, Ben Leece, Tim Easton, and many more, along with DJ sets from the one and only Chris Familton’s Post To Wire Jukebox.

And be sure to keep an eye on the lineup at Staves Brewery’s Malt Room, which features an ever-changing lineup of country-roots acts. The same goes for favourite haunts Petersham Bowling Club, the Union Hotel in Newtown, Marrickville Bowling Club, the Gasoline Pony, and the George Hotel in Waterloo: all safe bets for a good time and great music.

Until next year: tread carefully wherever there are jacarandas in bloom – especially if you’re wearing pluggers. Many’s the coccyx bruised by a slippery purple deathtrap lurking on a footpath.

As always, if you have a gig to plug or an axe to grind, please feel free to get in touch with the writer at gdhipwell@gmail.com.