We mentioned Perth band Southpaw a few reviews back and almost as if by happenstance what should pop through the post but this album featuring Southpaw singer Gavin JD Munro fronting a big band with a big sound that straddles classic folk rock and fat back horn fuelled grooves, a weird coupling indeed but one that definitely works for the most part. This nine piece crew lilt magnificently on countrified waves with mandolin rippling while pedal steel weaves in and out as the brass adds a Southern soul or gospel feel, the end result coming across almost as if one were being treated to a revue as opposed to a single band. The imagery, particularly on the striking video for their song Hurricanes, is American Gothic summoning up a rustic backwoods sentiment which is reflected in the music. They eschew any sense of parched desert rock. Instead the landscape they inhabit is the enervating green lushness of the swamps and bayous , thick blooded, slow to react but dangerous when aroused. One could imagine them playing in a shack in Walter Hill’s movie Southern Comfort, dripping sweat as they offer up some swamp and mountain music. They don’t play Cajun but the fiddles and airs cut through to American folk music’s antecedents in misty Scottish Highlands and Irish glens giving the album an attractive Transatlantic connection.
Aside from the closing song, the traditional Oh Sinnerman, all of the songs are written by Munro and he proves to be a fine wordsmith summing up predicaments and dilemmas in classic style, spare but telling all you need to know such as on Different Lonesome
“She pours out the coffee, and we start the day, everything is faultless, we designed it that way. How can I rewrite the words I should have said, It’s a different kind of lonesome when the love’s not dead.”
Munro sings as if he’s inhabiting the souls of the luckless characters here, tired, worn out, resigned to their fate. His melancholic voice (along with some of the melodies) are reminiscent of Gene Clark in his prime and he’s ably assisted on harmonies by Kate Burgoyne who provides a fine foil to his hurt. The band meanwhile offer an empathetic backdrop with electric guitars by Aaron Brake and Stewart Methven curling and occasionally snarling over the strummed acoustics and sympathetic rhythm section. Lonesome harmonica tops several of the songs. The title song, Sweet Seville, Save My Soul, Hurricanes and No Direction are all superior wearied ballads that glow with a Tupelo honeyed light while the brass section adds a tumescence that is quite daring. While Munro’s melancholic side is given full rein on these the band show that they can kick the proverbial shit with some up-tempo numbers that gives the album some variety. The opening song, Lonely Days are Gone is a sparkling jangled riposte to The Boxtops song The Letter while Sermon On The Street has a mid sixties Dylan kick especially in the harmonica playing. They also get down and dirty with The Way It Was which has a Stones’ like swagger and strut.