The fairy tale continues for Russell Morris.
I remember seeing him at an in-store (Basement Discs, Melbourne) in March 2013. Morris was showcasing songs from his new album Sharkmouth – a blues album based on Australian stories and legends. He mentioned that the album had been rejected by just about every record label and he determined to release it himself, such was his passion for the material and the strength of his vision.
Hearing the songs for the first time, I was very impressed and a little surprised as to how good they were given that he had not been prominent, release-wise, on the local Australian scene for many years. I bought the album at the time and thought it probably would garner a niche following and might do adequately, even nicely in the market place, but not much more. After all, blues is not that big a seller in Australia and the material was not the usual content for the genre in any event.
Little did we all know at that time how well the album would do.
After a stellar year, Sharkmouth hit platinum sales and was awarded an ARIA for Best Blues and Roots Album. He has been in constant demand for live shows for a significant period and his reputation as one of the nation’s finest singer songwriters cemented. With over eighteen months at the top of the ARIA blues chart (where it still currently resides), Russell Morris’ Sharkmouth album was his biggest ever, re-establishing him as one of Australia’s most important singer/songwriters. Best known previously for his seven-minute epic 70s hit “The Real Thing”, Morris’s success proves that sometimes it’s just the music that matters.
Now to the follow-up – Van Diemen’s Land, which will be released tomorrow (April 11).
Van Diemen’s Land is the second of the trilogy re-telling some amazing stories in Australia’s history—some famous, some not so famous—creating a historical document using blues and rock to celebrate the yarns of which modern Australia was built on the back.
Russell Morris: “Australia has an amazing history of yarns. From Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson, through to Paul Kelly and Bryce Courtney, the Australian experience has always been retold in story. Americans have a proud tradition of folk songs passing their history down through the generations and while there are some amazing songwriters celebrating modern Australia, I wanted to create something that connected people today with the characters that shaped them”.
Van Diemen’s Land covers great Australian characters and stories including Breaker Morant, Sandakan, the Eureka Stockade and many more. Morris is joined on the new album by a host of special guest artists including Joe Camilleri, Rick Springfield, Rob Hirst (Midnight Oil), Scott Owen (The Living End), Ross Hannaford (Daddy Cool), Vika & Linda Bull, Phil Manning (Chain) and Joe Robinson.
“Van Diemen’s Land is an album that has been an amazing experience to make,” said Morris, “With the success of Sharkmouth, it really let me off my leash so to speak. It showed me that people want music that tells them a story and moves them.”
“I spent over a year researching these great Australian stories. To me these albums are about looking back at the characters that deserve to be remembered and then doing that in the best way I know how—through song. It’s about leaving a legacy that in fifty years’ time, someone can put these records on and learn something about the spirit of our great country, in the same way we do when we read The Man from Snowy River.”
Before hearing the new release, I must admit to having been a little concerned that the new material may not be able to stand out sufficiently, given the extraordinary success of Sharkmouth. I need not have worried. Van Diemen’s Land is superb. It is built on superior story telling, song construction and impressive vocals – and it has one thing over its predecessor – full-blown and powerful production values. It has a ramped-up energy and rocking vibe that is compelling.
You can hear the energy straight away, on the opener “Dexter’s Big Tin Can” – this band is hot. “Van Diemen’s Land” is powerful, a sad and pitiful tale of convict transportation – the production and arrangements are pressing, strident and all-encompassing. It rocks with an urgency that is hard to forget. “Birdsville” has saxophone and backing vocals a-blazing, with the Bull sisters adding depth. “Breaker Morant” – about the infamous Boer War court-martial subject – has a stealthy bass line, great vocals and the lead guitar a feature. A stripped back nautical yarn “Loch Ard Gorge” follows – a fascinating story unfolds with a slow creeping tempo throughout. The pace picks up with a more-traditional twelve-bar blues and a stubborn, grunting riff supporting a strike-breaking tale “Burning Rodney”. “Witch of King’s Cross” has arrangements almost imperceptible with Morris’s voice in total command.
One of the standouts of Van Diemen’s Land is “Eureka”, a story of goldfields violence while ‘living on damper and a mountain of dreams‘ and ‘sticks against guns‘ with piano and percussion providing an urgent back beat. Once the vocals have been delivered, the crescendo is totally spellbinding. “Bendigo Rock” is another ripper track – it gets better with the killer players strutting their stuff. Do not stop the album until you hear the very last note of the final track. A tremendous closing song to what is a terrific, inspired new release.
The difference in confidence between going into Sharkmouth and Van Diemen’s Land must have been marked for Morris. With the new album, Morris’s tail is up, he is kicking with the wind and we are helpless to resist.
Let the next stage of this wonderful fairytale unfurl.
Van Diemen’s Land hits stores and online April 11 2014 through Fanfare Records / Universal.
Thanks to SGC Media Management