Backsliders have been playing, touring the festival circuit and recording for twenty-seven years. The band is a 2011 ARIA Blues and Roots nominee and iTunes Australian Blues and Roots album of the year winner.
The latest release by the band was issued in March 2014 – Dark Side, its thirteenth to date, and features the trademark driving Mississippi Delta and Hill Country blues sounds, mixed in with original 21st Century new blues anthems.
Slide Guitarist, multi-stringed instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist Dom Turner is the founding member of the group. Dom’s influences are many and varied – a blend of Delta blues, piedmont blues, rock, dub and sounds of Asia. Drum and percussion virtuoso and songwriter Rob Hirst (Midnight Oil), has been with Backsliders for twelve years.
Joining Dom and Rob on this release are three of Australia’s most innovative and dynamic players – Brod Smith (Dingoes, Brod Smith’s Big Combo) and ARIA award-winning harmonica man Ian Collard (Collard, Greens & Gravy), along with another Midnight Oil alumni Jim Moginie. Smith and Collard alternate harp duties throughout the record.
The album was recorded in March 2013 at Oceanic Studios in Sydney Australia by Moginie and mastered at Studio 301 by James Cadsky. The album contains twelve new tracks, most of which are Turner/Hirst co-writes and two bonus tracks (the latter originally appeared on the band’s previous 2011 album Starvation Box).
“Bad Side Of New Town” starts off proceedings with a rush, guns a-blazing with most of the aforementioned players having some input – maybe a little too busy for some tastes. “Kill The Emotion” really gets proceedings going for me. Tremolo guitar evolving to a strong persistent and evocative slide – a moaning, thumping beat and a striking portrait of those who’ve drowned. “Prayer Flags” refers to ‘dusty rouge upon her cheeks like roses soft and pale‘ and a heroine ‘taking bullets for her love‘. The terrific song boasts sophisticated lyrics throughout – a sad tale of a lone figure – ‘prayer flags from a porch tattered standards waving free’.
“99 Years And One Dark Day” is a Jesse Fuller cover and returns us to that beautiful, grungy plantation blues sound with Collard’s totally authentic harmonica a standout here. “Sixties Girl” is more conventional, with harmonies and a lucid chorus with a catchy pop line while “I’ll Fly Away” is a folk standard with Smith leading a stripped-back, almost idiosyncratic version of the song (maybe recorded in one take?). “House On The Corner” has an Eastern vibe, a mystical feel with harmonica prominent and insistent. “Hard Times Killing Floor” includes a low chant with a firm back beat and urgent slide guitar building to a fiery crescendo. “Light On Tonight” has a catchy chorus and backing vocals – it’s an ode to the great city of New Orleans and the town of Basile in central Louisiana. The grungy distorted guitar returns on “Shocking Fact” which is a grinding, terrific instrumental and one of the album’s highlights.
“Phone Cap Blues” is a short ditty which recalls the dangers of mobile phone charges that we’ve all managed to encounter at some point. “Little Church in Shiloh” is another evocative instrumental with superb reverb guitar and harmonica (this time Smith is the player). “Emmett Till” is the first bonus track reflecting the sad tale of racism and segregation (Emmett Louis Till was an African-American murdered in Mississippi at the age of fourteen after reportedly flirting with a white woman). “Flannelette Border” is the highly enjoyable closing track – it contains banjo but with an original, contemporary vibe.
Dark Side is a fine album and, if you like your blues stripped back and authentic, well worthy of your attention.
Backsliders. Bless ’em.