Love is a Gamble - Steve Wernick Band (RPM Records) & Cold Mother Night - Tom Redwood (Walking Bird Records)
Good. Reviews completed. Payment in the usual manner, please Barman, used notes in a brown paper bag round the back of the cistern, third cubicle on the left, usual pub.
No? Bugger, you readers are a demanding lot.
Oh, all right then. Both albumss here deal with love and loss, despair and joy, isolation and continuity. There are a few similarities with the music, although really… both travel in different directions. Let’s begin with …
Record shop owners. They’re often quite peculiar. One I recall would never turn up at opening time. Another shuts his doors and buggers off interstate - he’s open three days a week most of the year. One I know is open five days a week, 11-4. And it’s hard to catch him open, because he sometimes scoots off for a coffee.
One I recall had a charming habit of… ah. You get the idea. These people - well, they’re all men aren’t they. These men are all music nuts, obsessives, mavericks. They live by their terms, by their own rules, because the rest of the world isn’t for them. If you love the music they sell, you follow the record seller, and on their terms.
As we approached The Gasoline Pony venue in Sydney's Marrickville a few weeks back, Chickenstones members Phil van Rooyen and Andy Ellard spotted the record shop next door. Number 113 Marrickville Road houses Steve Wernick’s rather fantastic RPM Records.
Needless to say, both van Rooyen and Ellard darted in with, apparently, the firm intention of bunking down there for several days. I followed, trepidatious (because I know what I’m like in these places).
Inside, RPM is … incredible. Quite apart from being open at an improbable hour and being right next door to a live music venue, the shop is expansive (to say the least). I bought a rare single which the owner, Steve Wernick, had just brought back from UK. Couldn’t resist. I escaped before I looked any further.
Ellard and Rooyen had a big natter with Wernick, who showed them his latest CD release; Ellard recognised the cover artist’s style instantly (Rolfe Knudsen) and promptly parted with the readies and has since played a few songs on his Sydney community radio program, The Devil’s Jukebox (live streaming, 9pm Tuesday night. You know you’re not doing anything at that hour except either getting drunk or watching reruns of Star Trek or MASH, you sad bastard. Tune in).
I confess, after returning home, and after hearing a few tracks on The Devil’s Jukebox, I was curious, and a few weeks later the CD plopped onto the mat.
"Love is a Gamble’"has been made with love. You can see at a glance that care, effort, time and money has been spent here: from the artwork to the gatefold sleeve and inner booklet. And it’s a fine CD.
The music - the songs … bugger it, this is a lovely, strong LP. Touches of country, a smatter of dirty '50s rock, and recorded with a clarity which ensures the songs touch you and stay with you. Knudsen also plays some cracking, delicate guitar - augmented by banjo and mandolin, keys and backing harmonies. Lots of smart, gentle touches in the background. "Love is a Gamble" is a strong LP which will grow on you… and stay with you…
If you read the booklet notes, well, they just hint at where the songs have come from, and let me tell you it’s not a light, air-fairy kind of place, but the kind of joint you have to have a lot of inner strength and determination to scrabble out of. The beauty, the intelligence of the arrangements, all blend together. "Love’s a Gamble" is a surprised delight to hear for the first time, and after that, you just sink in and stay.
"Kill Your Own Snakes" is where things start to change a little, where we find ourselves in a kind of laid-back intense rock - a style I normally scuttle away from - but the lyrics, the drive and the sense of the song keeps me glued. "The Road is My Home" is an interesting merge of country and blues which is both beautiful and matter-of-fact.
Then there’s the occasional flippant nose-thumb at the what is in effect the grim reaper (aka Blackjack Bill) who killed a woman the singer loves - so he’s going to kill Blackjack. Brilliant song.
Track by track … no, I won’t do that. You need to hear it. And did I tell you about the angry humour?
Broken system - cash for favours/ These streets have been re-zoned/ We’re owned by corporate raiders/ Everybody’s getting boned’ … businessmen keep on buying/ the soul of this dying town…
I won’t carry on about this. You need to get the CD, put it on, possibly with a glass of Shiraz, and just let it flow through you.
Melbourne-via-Adelaide singer-songwriter Tom Redwood's "Cold Mother Night" is a sparser, somewhat darker affair, on the same label which houses Dust Collection, Walking Bird Records.
Redwood is, frankly, a very intelligent man. Thankfully, unlike most intelligent men, this doesn’t hinder his creative drive. This is as pure as anthracite.
I’ve often seen Tom Redwood play in the Leather Messiah. He took an unobtrusive back seat. It was only when you paid attention, watched the band working over several nights that the reality hit you like a lump-hammer. What Tom was doing was right on the money. Lifted the band. Without him…
One night at the Crown and Anchor, the lead singer and the lead guitarist had both pulled out rather late in the piece, I gather. So the Messiah was a three-piece, with Tom on vocals - and somehow cobbling both lead and rhythm guitar pieces together. He looked utterly … well. I can’t or maybe shouldn’t describe it. I wish I had a recording of that gig - Tom was fucking amazing. So powerful, so huge…
Of course, Tom Redwood’s solo material is a long train journey from the skronk and 7ts crank of the Messiah. He once described it to me as being ‘folky’.
Well, that’s the wrong word. So strong, so drawn … the first song, ‘Give it a Little Time’ reminds me a little of Dylan … but really, Dylan doesn’t have this level of empathy. You’ll hear a few of Tom’s other influences - he’s very well-read, musically - but look, that’s not why you’re here. This is one huge, lush record - even though Tom’s stripped things back.
The songs grab you immediately - not like an earworm. But they seep into you. And Redwood is so damn eloquent and enigmatic with his lyrics (even nicking a few lines from James Joyce - name any musician you know who can pull that off and bolt it inside their own artistic worldview) that the mental places he conjures will have you moved … hell.
Getting darker now/ and I’m still waiting here/ sitting with my heart/ and fighting off the fear
Fuck. Who on earth can write like that and then sing such a place and make it sound so real, so much a part of yourself as you listen..?
And that’s just a verse. A few of the lyrics - take "Stone", for example - tell a direct, beginning-middle-end story with a punch like a mule’s hind legs.
"Cold Mother Night" is, ultimately, a sigil of great beauty, clarity, compassion and despair. Tom’s voice is … no. You have to hear this for yourself.
Every single song on both "Love is a Gamble" and "Cold Mother Night" is worth your time and your handful of dimes. If this is where modern rock’n’roll is going - and in many ways it should be - then I can live with that.