Country In The Convict Capital

A great album is apt to fix a particularly vivid recollection of place and time in the mind’s eye – sometimes for the better, and sometimes like a stalk of tinned asparagus suspended in aspic. Often, the nostalgic power of an album is a welcome thing. Sometimes, however – as is sadly the case for me with Justin Townes Earle’s immense Midnight at the Movies (2009) – an album will forever transport us back in time to a dingy, crumbling terrace house riddled with rising damp, mouldy laminate, and slivers of daylight glinting through worrying spaces between floorboard and skirting boards. Regardless: a great country album has the power to soundtrack some of the more memorable and momentous passages in our lives.

Your columnist was recently fortunate enough to catch a double-header of immense personal significance when Deer Tick and Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit took to the Enmore Theatre back in March.

The former band’s seminal Divine Providence (2011) arrived in the spring of a punishing year, and immediately buttonholed me with the brashness, braggadocio and off-kilter honkytonk keys of opener ‘The Bump’ (‘we’re full-grown men, but we act like kids’), the irresistible exhortations of ‘Let’s All Go to the Bar’ (‘forget if you’ll regret it when the morning comes, we’ll have a heart attack, we’re having too much fun’), and all round careening roots-punk abandon. That album became the default soundtrack to my regular Friday night walk to the Vic on the Park, and what was then a burgeoning fascination with all the grungy, rollicking country-punk I could dig up.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I’d left the many and varied stresses of a challenging career behind me, when Jason Isbell, a one-time Drive-By Trucker with a couple of killer songs already under his belt (including enduring favourites ‘Alabama Pines’ and ‘Codeine’), debuted instant classic album Southeastern in 2013, changing the alt. country landscape forever. I first encountered Southeastern while sprawled on a beanbag in the loft of Newtown Library, making a half-hearted effort to play the part of freelance writer with a cup of takeaway coffee and far too much time on my hands. The adjustment to being, suddenly, the master of my every working hour, day and week was a strange one (being a successful freelancer, of course, has nothing at all to do with beanbags and coffee, and everything to do with keeping regular working hours, sitting doggedly at a desk and, most importantly, simply writing). Too much time and too little focus, I found, bred a certain sort of disquieting restlessness in me. Southeastern instantly became the balm.

The years since have seen both Deer Tick and Jason Isbell release several more albums between them, which have, happily, soundtracked a gradual improvement in both my work ethic, and my taste in rental properties. But to hear John McCauley and co blast through a live rendition of all-time Deer Tick favourite ‘Easy’ (from 2009’s Born on Flag Day), followed by Jason Isbell surveying a storied songbook beginning with Drive-By Truckers and ending with most recent masterpiece The Nashville Sound, was to take a trip back in time, to an all but forgotten clean-shaven past.

Sydney has plenty of new memories to be made in the coming months.

The Easy Leaves (USA) are at the Golden Barley in Enmore on 13 and 20 June, while the next installment of Ramblin’ Nights brings Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes and Not Good With Horses to Enmore’s Sly Fox on 7 June.

19 July sees artist-of-the-moment Joshua Hedley and his 5-piece band take to Newtown’s the Vanguard alongside Lillie Mae. Also at the Vanguard are the Turner Brown Band and Shelley’s Murder Boys on 10 August, and Mike McClellan on 8 November.

Big Merino are at the Bunker at Coogee Diggers on 9 June, as are the PINKS on 11 August.

A hit at the 2017 Sydney Guitar Festival, Pioneers of Rock n Roll returns to the Factory Theatre in Marrickville on 18 August, featuring the incomparable Dr Zane Banks and Drey Rollan leading a 10-piece band performing the best of early honkytonk, rockabilly, swing and more.

Kasey Chambers and band the Fireside Disciples take to Rooty Hill RSL for what promises to be a very special, intimate performance on 16 June, kicking off a jam-packed season at the Club. Rooty Hill hosts Amber Lawrence and friends Christie Lamb and Mickey Pye on 29 June, Adam Brand’s Milestones – 20 Years show on 14 July, Granger Smith and Earl Dibbles Jr, with support from Jasmine Rae, on 25 July, and Aleyce Simmonds and Brad Butcher’s Country in Your Town show on 3 August.

Iconic songwriter Eric Bogle is at Camelot Lounge in Marrickville on 7 June, with support from Ami Williamson, before the Morrisons make their triumphant return to the venue with Smoke on a Foggy Highway: The Bluegrass Albums of Paul Kelly on 13 June. Sister venue Django Bar hosts Sally-Anne Whitten & The Rumour Mill and Rae Moody on 14 June, and John Flanagan Trio and Dylan Wright on 28 June.

Perch Creek are at Lizotte’s on 7 June, as are Eric Bogle and Ami Williamson on 10 June, Brothers 3 on 17 June, Gretta Ziller, Andrew Swift and Lyn Bowtell on 17 June, Amber Lawrence on 22 June, with support from Mickey Pye and Lili Crane, Aleyce Simmonds and Brad Butcher on 22 July, the Turner Brown Band on 2 August, Jason Owen Sings John Denver on 18 August, Catherine Britt & The Cold Cold Hearts on 1 September, Bennett Bowtell & Urquhart on 15 September, and Stars on 4 November.

Fallon Cush is at the Union Hotel in Newtown on 3 June

Be sure to check out Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL’s monthly Canterbury Country shows, which are staged on the first Thursday of each month. And be sure to keep a close eye on the lineup at the Bearded Tit in Redfern, Staves Brewery’s Malt Room in Glebe, Marrickville’s Gasoline Pony, and the George Hotel in Waterloo for the best country and alt. country offerings for the cooler months ahead.

Finally, I have previously been remiss in failing to mention Shady Pines Saloon in Darlinghurst, which hosts regular alt. country shows surrounded by the best steakhouse furnishings fire-sale décor money can buy.

As ever, if you have a gig to plug or an axe to grind, please feel free to get in touch with the writer at: