Deep Down South

Melbourne-Country with Small Town Romance’s Jim Arneman


G’day Country Updaters, Jim Arneman from Small Town Romance here to get you caught up on all things Country Music in Victoria. My wife and bandmate Flora Smith sends her best – we’ve been quiet on the music front for the past few months due to the arrival of our first child on July 27th, a beautiful healthy girl Helena Joy Smith Arneman. Needless to say we are utterly smitten with our new daughter! Home front aside I’ve done my best to keep my finger on the pulse so I can report to you the mighty fine records have been released and general goings on over the past couple of months.

First up Freya Josephine Hollick has released her new longplayer Feral Fusion  and it’s a corker. The record covers plenty of territory from Appalachian inspired ballads (‘The Earthly By and By’) to soaring orchestral epics (‘On A Mission To Kill All the Hatred In Man’) through to the downright funky (‘Dog on A Bone’). Freya’s remarkable vocal is the glue that binds all these disparate elements together, it’s a wonderfully compelling tension between the power and fragility of her voice across the length of the record. Special mention to her secret weapons on this release; Shane Reilly on pedal steel and orchestral arrangements and Roger Bergodaz engineering and mixing. I was lucky enough to see Freya launch it at The Curtin Bandroom in Carlton on September 15th and the Ballarat-based songstress was in full flight channelling Dolly Parton and Betty Davis in equal measures.

Local bluegrass heroes Mustered Courage are back with a new release We Played With Fire after a 2 year hiatus and it’s a refreshingly stripped back sound that drives their 3rd album. Lead vocal duties are shared between all members of the band on this collection of tunes, my highlight is bassist Josh Bridges’ turn on vocals for ‘Free Wheelin’ and Nick Keeling’s duet with Fanny Lumsden ‘First Impressions’. The fellas are currently touring so look out for them at festivals over the summer they’re one of our finest fast-pickin’ outfits going around at the moment.

Next up is James Ellis and the Jealous Guys, a 5 piece Melbourne based Honky Tonk outfit that have been consistently filling dancefloors around Melbourne over the past 12 months. Their debut record It Ain’t Texas (But It Ain’t Bad) is a savvy take on classic Texas Honky Tonk framed by James’ distinctive Australian vocal delivery and assured writing. Highlights like Bush Companions and Christmas Lights are lyrical slices of Australian life that John Williamson would be proud of whilst ‘Have You Ever Seen Her’ is classic bar room melancholia.  Riding high on the back of their appearances at Americana Fest in Nashville the band now has an ongoing Thursday night residency at Fitzroy bar Rook’s Return that I recommend you check out next time you’re in town. It’s free and a darn good time.

Moving right along I want to mention the wave of Honky Tonkin more generally that has been building in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne. Venues such as The Thornbury Theatre, Swamplands and The Spotted Mallard have been hosting packed out gigs with bustling dance floors. Credit must go to Emma B’s Dance Academy for running a wildly popular 2 step dance lesson that has sparked a renaissance of bar room choreography that I implore you to come and be a part of ASAP.

The 2nd annual Americana Australia Honours night took place at The Thornbury Theatre on Oct 11th with the legendary Shane Howard receiving a Vanguard award for his lifetime achievements alongside veteran radio broadcaster Brian Wise. Performances on the night were of the highest quality with Victoria’s own Weeping Willows representing amongst a high profile Americana line-up including Kasey Chambers, Little Georgia, Kevin Welch & William Crighton.

Out On the Weekend festival celebrated its 5th year in style on October 13th with some heavy hitting international Americana acts headlining including Margot Price and Joshua Hedley. Along for the ride were a triumphant Wagons back from a 5 year hiatus reminding us why we love their Aussie brand of classic Country Rock shenanigans. The all female tribute to The Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo provided a highlight for many on the day, Melbourne is flush for talented female performers right now with the likes of  Brooke Russell, Kelly Day, Tracy McNeil and Loretta Miller reinterpreting tracks off this iconic record.

Young upstarts Georgia State Line were also at the festival fresh from the release of their new single Dry My Tears which is a gorgeous showcase of Georgia Delves songwriting and striking vocal abilities. I can’t say enough nice things about this band they’ve got big things ahead look out for them.

Everyone’s favourite subgenre ‘alt country’ has a new compilation of Australian artists for you to get excited about. Take Me To Town is the brainchild of some fine NSW folks but amongst its 47 tracks are a number of Victorian ear worms from folk such as Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes, Skyscraper Stan, Bill Jackson and Mitch Power.

Finally The Age Music Awards have released their nominations for Country album of the year and it’s a tight field. Tamworth darling Gretta Ziller has gained a nod, aforementioned Freya Josephine Hollick and James Ellis, troubadour Michael Waugh and cosmic cowboy Ben Mastwyk are all in the running. Hard to pick a winner here folks stay tuned for more developments south of the border in the next issue.