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heyheymymy.com.au January 17, 2010


Broderick Smith
Unknown Country
(Liberation)


Broderick Smith doesn’t really need to tailor his albums to please anyone anymore. Realistically, it wouldn’t matter what he does, he’s not going to receive widespread radio airplay or get his videos on television or suddenly have a new mass of fans turning up to his shows. He has enough credits in the band to avoid the need to prostitute himself at this point.


With this in mind he’s able to make an album that is designed to please only himself (and possibly the other musicians who choose to play on it). Once its made he can hope that as many people as possible get to hear it in the knowledge that a reliable percentage of those people are going to like it enough to buy it. Or not.


The practical and probably inevitable result of this is that Unknown Country is a sprawling, unedited affair. But that can be a good thing. The subject matter of this collection of songs is so diverse that is appears to completely be without a theme. The subjects range from the Bali Bombings to the Tasmanian Aboriginal activist Jack Napoleon, from New Orleans street poetry to the sport of boxing and from Colonel Tom and Elvis to Joe Byrne, the apparently most eclectic member of the Kelly Gang.


Yet somehow Smith and his main collaborator Matt Walker manage to draw these songs together through the use of a force as unifying as the lyrics and themes are divergent. That unifying force is the music – music that is collectively tastefully woven, dark, melancholy and spacious. There’s plenty of sonic texture across the album but it’s often the result of subtly murmured parts rather than adamant music statements.


Smith’s voice is the lead instrument though. He sounds weary and resigned as if he is carrying the weight of the stories he is relating and the difficult histories of the individuals that populate the songs. It’s a unique voice – at times he sounds like Lou Reed would if he were singing Australian bush ballads, at other times he sounds a little like Neil Young and sometimes he evokes Harry Dean Stanton in his most ponderous times. But in every case he sounds unmistakably Australian.
It’s an album that rewards being listened to in its entirety even if that is unapologetically a challenging process to endure. It can be heavy going due to the uncompromised way the songs are presented. Make no mistake this is not “easy listening” music. There are certain songs that do deserve to be singled out. The most sonically challenging song is The Ring, a almost industrial sounding examination of boxing. It’s followed by Smashman, a slinky blues shimmy that is a amazingly vivid look at the life and motivations on tow-truck drivers. Who would have thought?

Walk Into My Soul is a beautifully simple song that’s more western than country while a trio of songs on the middle of the album Crazy Mary, Jack Napoleon and Mary The Larrikin collectively make up a missing chapter from the secret history of Australia.


The album’s title and opening track is a beauty. It’s like an Australian reply to Chris Whitley’s Big Sky Country and with that song it shares a starkness and spirit of place that is at once foreboding and enthralling. It is a fine way to open an admirable album.


Hey Hey My My Music for Adults

Andrew Watt

 


 

Sydney Morning Herald Dec 5-6, 2009


Broderick Smith
Unknown Country
(Liberation)


It's often hard for affectation-free Melbourne musical institutions - from Lisa Miller and Ashley Naylor to Chris Wilson and this album's producer, Matt Walker - to get the attention they deserve in Sydney.

I have come to this album by former Dingoes singer Broderick Smith rather belatedly and regret having wasted time getting here. This is an album that is both stark and evocative, rippling with a series of strong emotions but played without fuss, stretching from intimate songs of regret to the kind of bluesy attack you could imagine Tom Waits providing if backed by our fabulous Abbe May.

Waits is, at times, a reference point on Unknown Country but a better example would be the later Rick Rubin-produced albums of Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond - more philosophically than sonically, though.

There's some of the wisdom and weariness of a man looking around him and wondering how we all got here. There's also some of the vulnerability of a man unafraid to show his fears. And there's something direct that can't be denied and which is only partly connected to the rugged qualities of the voice.


Bernard Zuel

 


 

Forte Magazine September, 2009

 

Broderick Smith

Unknown Country (Liberation)

 

If you reckon you know exactly what to expect here, think again.  Sure, there’s the distinctive harmonica and vocal authority, sardonic wit and heart.  But between earthy blues and tear-stained folk, Smith refines and re-defines his legendary status.  Like Rick Rubin’s Johnny Cash recordings, Unknown Country grabs the listener by the collar and says, “I’ve been around. I’ve made mistakes. I know a thing or two but I’m prepared to learn some more.”    With vocals to the fore, tiny cracks in the patina only add to the immediacy and integrity of Smith’s musings. 

 

Not that it’s all kisses and tears.  The cover suggests the old-school recording style with ‘dynamic range’ means ‘PLAY IT LOUD’.   Guitarist Matt Walker (co-writer and producer) worked intimately with Smith teasing out sublime portraits of rebels, rascals and people next door. ‘In the Ring’ is all sweat and adrenalin; as jarring as a left hook.  ‘Smashman’ rocks out on behalf of tow-truck drivers.  ‘Jack Napoleon’ celebrates the rebellion of an exploited Tasmanian aborigine in the 1840s with Garth Hudson (The Band) on accordion.  ‘Mary the Larrikin’ tells of a barmaid’s friendship with educated, opium-addled Kelly Gang member Joe Byrne.  The drowsy organ drone and crystalline vocals are otherworldly.

 

The narrator breathes bluesy southern menace into ‘The Devil and The Boy’ about Elvis and The Colonel.  With barbs aimed at Johnny and Dubya, ‘God May Not Be With Us’ recalls a Dingoes hook and easy rhythm.    The frank and haunting title track draws from Smith what ‘Hurt’ bled from Johnny Cash.  Guitarists are Smith (also banjo), Walker (lap steel) and Shannon Bourne.  Typical of Smith’s eclecticism, Asian-flavoured strings intersperse Lawson-esque lyrics. Guests include Grant Cummerford (bass), engineer Dave Manton (keys) and Andy Rigby (Celtic harp).  Laurie Ernst’s drums march straight from a New Orleans ‘second line’ as Smith reclaims his mojo on ‘Buddy Bolden’.  Inspired and inspiring. 

 

Chris Lambie

 


 

The Australian Sept 12, 2009

ROOTS
Unknown Country
Broderick Smith
Liberation
4 stars


THE overlay of Unknown Country presents Broderick Smith staring into the distance; his eyes set to gravitas; his expression stamped with evaluative determination. The cover art shows the artist walking through rugged territory dappled with faint sunlight and dark shade. The visuals are fair warning that Unknown Country is troubled terrain.


The roots-sparse music resonates with emotional turbulence. The atmospheres are set by blues lap steel player and producer Matt Walker, with apt support from (among others) guitarist Shannon Bourne and The Band's organ player Garth Hudson. But Smith's compelling song narrations guide the journey.


He evokes the after-taste of black dog depression on Bad Star. He breathes life into Australia's colonial past on Jack Napoleon From Cape Grim and Mary the Larrikin.


On I'm The Same as You he evokes weary grief for those caught in the Bali bombing and Iraq war. The Devil and the Boy is a boisterous enactment of the story of Elvis Presley and manager Colonel Tom Parker. Buddy Bolden is grunge homage to New Orleans blues.


As the title track warns, "only the small fire of one's wits and sense of self-preservation offers a flicker of salvation". Smith's vocals range from an empathetic croon to the shout of an avenging angel.


Unknown Country is a stunning musical achievement that demands and rewards concentrated and repeated listening.


Anthony O'Grady

 


 

Broderick Smith - Unknown Country

www.ourbrisbane.com Sept 12, 2009

 

In the early 70’s ABC Television featured a rock music show called GTK that ran for ten minutes leading up to the soapie Bellbird. This was where you got a nightly fix of acts like Thorpie and Daddy Cool performing live in the studio their own rendition of the GTK theme as well as original material. It was on one of these episodes that I first encountered Broderick Smith, singing up a storm, blowing some bitchin’ blues harmonica and breaking into an irreverent orangutan dance that mightily impressed the teenagers of the neighbourhood. Broderick went on to lead The Dingoes, arguably one of the greatest bands to emerge from Melbourne at the time.

 

Unknown Country is Smith’s tenth solo album and carries on The Dingoes tradition of melding rhythm & blues with Australian colonial music. It’s deep, dark, rustic and gritty though not short on intricacy and at times very tender. The song list is a patchwork quilt of historical themes, personal reflection and contemporary issues doused with lyrics that would stand alone as potent poetry without the music. It comes across as an honest, totally uncompromised original work so bereft of familiar turns that I initially found it difficult to find a place to land depending on my mood. On a continuum with Australian Idol at one end this would be light years away at the remotest point in the universe. It’s challenging stuff that boots you out of your easy chair and puts you outside the proverbial square.

 

The songs

The opening and title track Unknown Country is immediately ethereal and beautiful showcases Broderick’s voice; an unanticipated entre.

 

The Devil And The Boy tells of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley couched in carnival imagery with a shimmering Mississippi harp intro. In a previous life Colonel Tom was a side show operator with a troop of dancing chickens who boot-scooted with the aid of a controlled hotplate hence the priceless line ‘a dancing chicken on a hot plate, a golden voice for all times’.

 

Buddy Bolden pays homage to the original spark of New Orleans jazz and affects such an authentic vibe you can almost taste the gumbo. This track introduces a disarmingly filthy but funky electric guitar sound that eventually works to test the flow of the album although its lowdown use on this track is to fine effect. 

 

From I’m The Same As You there’s a swing into the grass roots and colonial. Jack Napoleon  bounces along on an ancient banjo telling the story of a 19th century Tasmanian aboriginal activist and featuring none other than The Band’s Garth Hudson on accordion – now that’s rustic.

 

Mary The Larrikin is a sensuous and majestic ode to Joe Byrne of the Kelly Gang.

 

God May Not Be With Us raises the contemporary moral issues surrounding American and Australian collusion in the Iraq conflict.

 

Unfortunately the pastoral mood emerging from this set of songs is smashed to pieces by the non-sequitir The Ring with its puking, dissonant and abrasive guitar. The topic is the pain and loneliness of the boxer so a hit below the belt is apt but at the expense of breaking the spell and continuity set by the album thus far. This is an odd contrast to the hypnotic, crystalline acoustic work that is one of the most endearing facets of the album. 

 

Overall this should appeal to those who get off on the darker recesses of Bob, Neil or Van and deserves to be rewarded with similar respect. With repeated plays there’s a payoff as it starts to invade you. And who knows, a visit to Kelly Country with this on in the background might just invoke something magical.

 

By Julian Endsleigh

 


 

The Age Gig Guide Sept 11th, 2009

 

Unknown Country

Broderick Smith

(Liberation)

4 stars

 

BRODERICK Smith was recognised for being one of the first Australian songwriters to imbue his songs with a sense of heritage when the Dingoes were recently inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. Smith is still making vital music. His rich, soulful voice and harmonica playing have been enhanced by a young band led by guitar-slingers Matt Walker and Shannon Bourne and The Band's keyboardist Garth Hudson, on this sparse and soulful album that taps into blues, folk and country. His 10th solo album is as diverse as you'd imagine from a well-read songwriter as interested in boxing as sixth-century Chinese poetry. Characters include Elvis Presley and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker; New Orleans jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden; Aboriginal freedom fighter Jack Napoleon; Kelly Gang member Joe Byrne; and a local tow-truck driver as he explores the Iraq war, the Bali bombings and the existential search for meaning in life. "Come and take a walk into my soul," Smith invites the listener on Walk into my Soul. Afterwards you'll feel as reinvigorated and connected to the land as after a mountain stroll.

 

Patrick Donovan

 


 

BRODERICK SMITH – UNKNOWN COUNTRY

Alternative Media Group

 

Author: Aidan Roberts
Posted: Tuesday, 15 September 2009

4 stars
 

This silvery old devil may be familiar to readers as the voice of The Dingoes – a once hip pub rock outfit from Melbourne who have recently been inducted into the Aria Hall of Fame. In his middle age, Broderick Smith has avoided the softer road of the adult contemporary singer, and forged his own weather-beaten path into darker folk rock waters. For this moody, dense record, he’s teamed up with Melbourne blues whiz-kid Matt Walker  to co-write, produce and orchestrate, an inspired cocktail of talent that recalls the artistic freshness of the Rick Rubin / Neil Diamond series. Walker’s spare, unusual melodies and fragmented guitar work are instantly recognizable, and a perfect match for Smith’s cognac-infused lyrical wisdom. The subtle instrumentation and odd, creaking sounds throughout give the listener the impression that they are taking a journey with Smith, indeed through an unknown country. His voice – amazingly resonant and smooth for an older rocker, commands these songs with authority and startling dynamics, from the haunted, harmonium-infused title track to the blistering spook-rocker The Ring. Most effective is the ponderous and darkly beautiful Mary The Larrikin. Thanks in equal part to Walker’s involvement and Smith’s own refusal to settle into cozy songwriting waters, this is a disturbing and satisfying record and should sit high on Smith’s mantle as one of his finest achievements.

 


 

Nu Country

Dave's Diary

20 September, 2009

Click here for Dave Dawson's review of Unknown Country

 


 

cdWOW

cd description

14 September, 2009

 

Broderick Smith has been homing in on this unique territory for nearly 50 years. He staked his first claims with seminal Melbourne blues/ roots outfits Carson and The Dingoes. Not that his journey began there by any means. But in a sense, Unknown Country is where it was always heading.
Smith's masterful voice is but one key ingredient to his tenth solo album. His longstanding lap steel accomplice and co-writer Matt Walker to his right, guitarist Shannon The Assassin Bourne to his left, Unknown Country brings a new combination of passion, depth and texture to Australian roots music.
Drummer Laurie Ernst is another veteran of Smith's floating combo, The Guild. American keyboard player Garth Hudson (The Band) is an older colleague, going back to the Dingoes late 70s residency in San Francisco. Bassist Grant Cummerford, Celtic harp player Andrew Rigby and engineer/ keyboard player David Manton complete a lean, empathetic line-up.

 


 


 

 

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