Frank Gutch Jr: Down Under Down Under: Band Picks By My Favorite Aussie Musicians

FrankJr2God, but I love Australia.  I love the openness and the freedom and the idealism.  I love their uniqueness— I mean, what other continents have such cool animals as the duck-billed platypus and kangaroo and koala.  What other continent has the history, much of it forgotten outside that country’s boundaries— the penal colonies (Did you know that England sent their undesirables to the soon-to-be United States before diverting them to Australia? Colonies were colonies to those inbred bastards back then, eh?), the rabbit roundups (The newsreel clips are pure science fiction! Check out the little video I found on Youtube which highlights the problems of invasive species down under), the flying doctors, the centralization of schools.  The Outback.  Uluru (Ayers Rock to those outside Australia), The Great Barrier Reef.

So many things attached to the continent and the country that the numbers of books written about them do not even really begin to cover the real story.

My first exposure to Australia came via my father, a WWII vet who held that there was no better soldier to have in the next foxhole than an Aussie or New Zealander.  My first visions of robie porterthe people down under were of giants, fearless but fair.  Always fair.  As fair as an American, and I was brainwashed enough at that young age to believe that Americans could do no wrong— at least, without being corrected by other Americans.  As a child, I dreamed of the Japanese hordes running in fear at the mere mention of Australians.  I marveled at the platypus and the koala and the wombat (hell, it wasn’t even a bat!) and marked it in my head as a place I had to visit (No, I haven’t made it yet, but as the rockin’ and rollin’ Larry Norman once sang (rest his soul), “I ain’t dead yet!”

When youth gave way to teenery, I discovered something else— music— and how surprised was I to hear that Australia dug rock ‘n’ roll as much as America?  Damn surprised, let me tell you!  We didn’t get a boatload of Australian music over here, but we got enough to know that the UK and the United States did not have exclusivity when it came to rock.  A young dude named Robie Portermade it onto a few TV shows, but it was a different Robie Porter than the Rob E G that the Australians knew.  Porter I remember as a James Darren/Steve Alaimo styled rocker, up front with a mic in his hands and crooning, rock ‘n’ roll style.  Rob E G, Porter’s early version, was a guitarist.  Like this:

Rolf Harris was another Aussie who broke through on radio.  Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport was a huge hit Stateside and the novelty song played havoc with rock ‘n’ roll radio.  It wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll, see, but it was cool, and cool in those days substituted just fine.  Of course, my favorite Harris song was the later Sun Arise, with its seemingly didgeridoo’d base and its aboriginal feel.  I was stunned to find out later that the supposed didgeridoo on that song was created by four double basses— what trickery was that?

By the time the British Invasion had really hit and rock ‘n’ roll had become rock, Australia was producing its fair share of music acceptable to the world.  The Easybeats had significant if daddycoolnot overwhelming success in the States.  The Bee Gees started their uphill run with 1st, an album packed with excellent pop tunes (as opposed to the drivel they produced during their disco years).  From that point on, Australia sidled right up next to the United States and the UK in producing the music we all wanted to hear, with bands and artists like Daddy Cool, Billy Thorpe, Skyhooks (I don’t care if the US got them or not, they were pretty damn good), and later, Little River Band, Midnight Oil, The Angels (known as Angel City in the US) and, of course, AC/DC, to name only a few.

It hasn’t stopped, sports fans.  Australia continues to deliver the musical goods, which is what this column is all about today.  I spend a lot of time scouring the Net for bands worth hearing, but this time I decided to let some Aussies do it for me.  My favorite Aussies, in fact.  I sent out a message asking for help finding artists in Oz who are not getting the respect they deserve.  Pick three, I said, and maybe tell me why.  Four responded with the short list.  These are their choices.


I met Hannah through a mutual acquaintance, Ken Stringfellow, who I knew as one of the guitarists and vocalists of Seattle’s The Posies.  Ken had just finished a recording by Hannah titled All the Dirt and had posted a few words along with a link to the music on Facebook.  I followed and what I discovered was an album with amazing depth and a nod toward a Marianne Faithfullaround the time of her Broken English album, one of my all-time favorites.  There is a bit of Marianne in Hannah’s vocal inflection, but mostly in her songwriting.  All the Dirt  gave me the same feeling I got when I immersed myself in Faithfull’s album— a feeling of musical completion, if you will.  She absolutely nailed down each song with an aura too often missing among many singer/songwriters of today.  The world will find this album one day (hear it here) and Hannah will get the attention she so rightly deserves.  In the meantime, she’s pointing toward others, like

Leah Flanagan…..  Hannah is enamored with Leah’s voice, or maybe it is the phrasing or maybe even the production.  I followed the link Hannah supplied and I hear all three, all viable.  She can be upbeat but she is best (to my ears) when she slows it down.  You can check out her website to hear more (click here) and can purchase a very, very limited edition 45 of her new single Everything (love the arrangement)from her Bandcamp page (click here) (though I would be extremely surprised if it hasn’t already sold out).

This, by the way, is Hannah’s favorite Flanagan track.

The Snappers…..  In typical Gillespie style, Hannah introduces her next pick thusly:  Next up – cuz Ben Gillespie – he is in many bands including the touring band for gotye etc as a trombone player/harmony singer but his love and what he does so well is this – The Snappers – in which he sings.

One listen to this (click here) convinced me.  And the dude sings with a slight accent!  Hard to find foreigners who don’t adopt the American accent when it comes to vocals.

They smash out dixie jazz Melbourne-style like no other, Hannah continues. – check out their other stuff and anything they do, really, but hell – that voice – we joke that when they were doling out Gillespie talent, he got the mega bag.  

How about the ol’ nail in the proverbial coffin?  A bit o’ jazzy swing from the band they call Snap Happy.  (click here)  Yeah, I was surprised, too.  Hannah is more than she lets on.

Whilst Hannah typed, her boy Kai had to get in his two-cents worth.  His favourite at the moment, Hannah writes, is Old Man Emu by Aussie cult Bush muso John Williamson. He loves it, he dances and laughs his head off… Let us give Kai his just due.  Watch this (then dance and laugh your head off).

The Wedded Bliss…  The third band I’m struggling with, continued Hannah, because I wanna say The Wedded Bliss, my bass player’s other band, but they are having an extended break so I’m not sure it should count. But, my, they are good. I woulda put em first now I think about it.

Didn’t take me long to get it,  Hannah.  These guys have more influences than Carter’s has pills, as my Momma used to say.  I am convinced that a night at the Outback Saloon is a party when these guys play— or played, depending upon their hiatus.  You can hear their Swingin’ Arms Hotel album here.  I’ve bookmarked it and plan to revisit a few times or more.  I like ’em.

Again, from Hannah:  This album is a cracker… I love track 6— “Broken Bird” and often think I would love it in my set one day… But the whole thing rolls along beautifully.  I think it was recorded where I recorded the album (All the Dirt)with Ken, too.

MunroMelano_bySasufi2MUNRO MELANO…..

Come to think of it, I believe I found Munro Melano via Hannah Gillespie, too.  Small world, down under.  I liked what I heard on the Net, sent Munro a message asking for the EP and damned if he didn’t send it.  All the way from Australia, fer chrissakes.  Wotta guy, huh???!

Not long after I got the EP, he posted the video below.  I learned four things from watching that video.  Australia has trees, Australians have to sleep on water (possibly because of the many poisonous animals exclusive to that country— like wombats and koalas), Melano must be rich because he budgeted ungodly amounts just for the yarn (unless they were having closeout sales at Yarns-R-Us), and he is one majorly talented dude (Here is a link to my review of his Running Round EP to prove it).  Listen to the odd, deep harmonies at the end of Somersault.  (Never understood why he didn’t title it “Sabotage,” but I guess he had his reasons)

finkFink…..  I steal more from Fink than I do any other artist, sez Munro. His approach to dynamics influenced my style as a singer and my whole concept for my band. I’m thankful that I can’t play guitar as I’d just end up sounding like a poor version of him.  Check out his earlier albums- Distance and Time, and Sort of Revolution.

Is Fink major label?  Is Fink a he or a they?  If they, they have had well over a million hits on their new single, Hard Believer, and have had four albums before the new one.  Hard Believer is impressive just from the acoustic roots aspect.  No major chord progression, no rock.  Very bluesy with mild rhythms and very impressive guitar.  Why have I never heard of the band before?  Here is a link for a free download of the track (click here).  Here be the video:

One thing, though.  If you want to break through on the Net, you had better pick a name more search-worthy.  I don’t mind, but you might.  I got tons of links for the words “Fink,” “Music,” and “Australia.”  On the first page, only one was for Fink (the band), and it took me to the page for the free download and not to the band’s site.  But maybe I just don’t know how to search the Net, eh?

Ngaiire…..  Again, the Melanbro:  I was once at a singing lesson at my teachers house, and after horribly butchering my way through a soul classic I walked into the lounge room only to see Ngaiire standing there. It was terrifying.  She’s a fearless performer, and thankfully, an equally warm person who didn’t mention what had been coming out of the practice room.

The lady has a voice, for sure, but what really gets me is the vocal arrangements.  That takes an amazing amount of work and vocal coordination.  I am always impressed when the sound comes together like this.  Is this what one would call mainstream these days?  I’ve been so buried in the Indies for so long, I really have no idea anymore.  If you like this, you can pick up on her Lamentations album by clicking hereTo visit her Facebook page, click here.

Mechanical Pterodactyl…..  You may say I’m biased as I played piano on this album, the Melanbro stated somewhat apologetically, but to be honest I just played what I was told… This eclectic, daring and heartbreakingly personal album is 100% the creation of producer/songwriter/singer/drummer/guitarist etc… Yen Nguyen.  Yen is an old friend who pushes me to be a better artist, and I am excited to say that in the near future we are going to put out a collaborative album…

I would buy it, that collaboration album.  I hear what Nguyen is doing and I can hear where he is going, though I could not put an aural finger on it.  Sometimes you just know, right?  I knew it with Greg Laswell’s Through Toledo.  I knew it the first time I heard Picture the Ocean’s self-mechanicalpterodactyltitled album.  I knew it when I heard Brian Cullman’s All Fires the Fire.  I hear it here.  Nguyen is going places.  He has to.  He is too good to fail.

That said, too many I place in that category are failing.  Not musically, but commercially.  Every time I hear an album like Mechanical Pterodactyl‘s Watercolours now, I wonder what it takes to get people to listen.  To hear.  Like Ron Davies wrote and Long John Baldry sang, it ain’t easy.  To be a musician.  To put your art on display.  To fight your way through a business in virtual chaos.  Something tells me, though, Nguyen will do it.  And the others mentioned here too.  Here is a video of an earlier track by the Pterodactyl.  Pay close attention.  Oh, and if you want to hear what he has done fairly recently, click here.

BILL JACKSON…..  Bill and I are old friends and, in fact, he is the first person I contacted regarding this column.  I owe the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange for introducing me to his billjacksonmusic, his Steel + Bone album recommended heartily by FAME curator Dave Pyles.  One thing I have learned over the years is that when Dave recommends, it is always worth the recommendation.  When I listened to the album, I had a hard time separating Jackson’s music from the United States, though the themes were pretty much Australian.  It wasn’t long after that that Bill and musical cohort Pete Fidler flew to Nashville for a short stay and then I understood.  Australia and the United States, regardless of politics, are joined at the hip.  We are the same people.  We have pretty much the same race issues, the same bigotry, the same political quagmire, the same attitudes toward life.  We also have the same musical roots, though in different quantities and qualities.

Bill completely caught me completely offguard when he sent me a copy of his The Nashville Session EP, recorded whilst he and Pete were there.  He wrote this song, see, about Australia’s involvement in the States’ own Civil War— about a pirate ship dedicated to the Southern Cause but manned by Aussies.  Though a True Northerner, I was fascinated by the idea of any Australians backing either side and I asked questions, but all that was left was speculation.  The song, about the CSS Shenandoah, has uncovered so many questions about that war— questions left to history books and people long since dead.  Questions about The South and how it refuses to die, hanging on to the same bigotry which fashioned that war and would have, had it happened today, driven this country into bankruptcy if not hell.  Click here for my review of the EP.

Bill understands a lot of what I understand about the music and the music business.  He knows how hard it is to create and then to shape that creation to a public polish.  He knows the inward frustrations and the outward drive that makes musicians do what they do.  So when he sent me his list, I paid close attention.  Damn guy’s lousy at math, though.  I asked for three.  He sent me four.

raisedbyeaglesRaised By Eagles…..  is the first of the four.  I knew the name because Bill had mentioned them before, numerous times.  A couple of days ago, in fact, I noticed that I have a bookmark for their site (click here) which I must have added a year or two ago.  A site I evidently never got around to visiting.  Sometimes, I wish more people would kick my ass because I am at this moment floating in a pool of Raised By Eagles gold, the songs a mirror of some of my favorite bands of the moment— NOCONA, Old Californio, The Lonely Wild, Whispering Pines— bands you may not have heard but whose songs make up a large part of my playlist.

I hear echoes of The Band in some songs, Cowboy in others.  I hear Copper & Glass and the more modern roots bands I have recently come across.  I hear songs of real worth.  The songs… the songs are crafted so well, I’m surprised the States isn’t all over these guys.  RBE is readymade for Austin City Limits, they’re that good.  But again, why take my word for it?  You can listen here.  Do yourself a favor, though.  Lie back with a cool one and really listen.  I’m pretty sure you will be heading for the fridge for a second while this is still playing.

You want to know what frustration is?  Searching for a video by Raised By Eagles and having to wade through a thousand crap versions of crap Eagles’ videos.  Shouldn’t they be restricted to the Wal-Mart channel?  But there is a solution (besides destroying every freaking Eagles record and video in the world, which I have seriously thought about).  Click here.

The Weeping Willows…..  Speaking of Nashville, this duo would fit right in there, though not as one of the many faux country bands which have flocked to that city.  The Willows seem to prefer the backwoods semi-blues roots, but then again, I am severely limited as to the number of songs to which I am privy.  This, I think is a time I prefer to defer to that wonderful format, the video.  Watch and learn.

If you like that (and I do), I suggest a quick click over to the band’s website.  Right here.

stillsonsThe Stillsons…..  This is another band Bill has been pushing.  Now, ol’ Bill ain’t so stupid as to stand behind me and bang a pot with a spoon whilst espousing the talents of The Stillsons.  No, indeed.  Ol’ Bill is wily like a fox.  He just mentions them on occasion.  A simple whisper amongst the clatter of computer keyboard and digital aurality emanating from computer speakers.  Just on occasion, here and there.  Enough to make you aware of something, but never so much that you know you are aware.  Well, I’m aware now.  (Click here to visit their website)

I listened to their latest album this morning, Never Go Your Way, and understand why Bill wanted me to hear them.  They are roots-infused, for sure, but with an overlying today-ness about them.  They remind me at certain moments of Prelude back in the mid-70s— folk and country oozing from their musical pores— but they are more than that.  They slip in some acoustic blues and some pop and always with the male/female voices (which work really well together) and the steel and slide work of Stillson #3, that guy you don’t really hear from except through his instrument.  Having streamed the album only once, I can only say that I will be revisiting it soon.  There are some nice tunes there, possibly more than nice.  You can give it a listen by clicking here.

Shannon Bourne…..  Would someone please tell me how, with the Internet and a thousand people scouring it for guitarists of worth, I missed Shannon Bourne?  I’m a guitar freak and not once have I heard Bourne’s name mentioned by any of my fellow guitar nuts.  Are well all living in a bubble or something?  First, the UK’s Jon Gomm, who is finally beginning to gain some traction.  Now, Australia’s Bourne.  I am not even going to sing his praises.  I will instead let you listen.  I think you will be impressed.  I sure as hell am.

petefidlerPETE FIDLER…..  Mr. Fidler is as Mr. Jackson does, which is a fancy way of saying that he and Bill Jackson are somewhat joined at the musical hip.  Like Sergio Webb with David Olney, Fidler spends a fair amount of his time touring with Jackson.  They have this musical Vulcan mindmeld going on or something.  Whatever it is, it works.  Pete is all over Bill’s albums and I am glad of it.

Now, Pete came at this project a little differently than the others.  He is, to a certain degree, a sideman, meaning that he prefers playing his instruments with other musicians, for one reason or another.  Trust me, he is plenty good enough that he never has to ask.  Others seek him out.

But Pete has this appreciation for instrumentalists beyond the norm.  He listens hard, probably with the idea that he might learn something (the best are smart enough to know that there will always be something to learn) and he usually finds something to love.  He was in hospital when he sent his suggestions.  He is out now and doing well, thank the gods, but the fact that he took the time to make sure I got his list should tell you something.

He sent a short note which said I’d like you to look at some slide players: Jeff Lang, Andrew Winton and a bass playing singer/songwriter friend of mine, Liz Frencham. They’re all brilliant, Jeff is the godfather of slide in oz, Andrew is an amazing performer, and Liz is as heartfelt and open as it gets.

That said, let us start with

Jeff Lang…..  Man, you can’t do much better than name someone a godfather, so I figured Lang must be something else.  I mean, Pete plays a pretty mean slide, depending upon song, and if he makes the judgment, I’m not one to argue.

Holy shit!  I just watched this video.  I will never doubt Mr. Fidler again.  Not that I ever did, but…..

And there is this.  The song starts about 3:27 into the video but let me tell you that it is worth the wait.  I am overwhelmed.  Godfather of Slide, indeed.  And he makes it look so easy.  And who is this John Butler guy?  Am I that far behind?

Andrew Winton…..  If I make a typo here, please forgive me because I am laughing and can’t see the keys all that well.  This Andrew Winton dude is blowing my mind with one of the weirdest looking lap steels I’ve ever seen.  The following video may be just a video demonstrating the instrument, but goddamn…..!  And, yes, when the music is amazing, my reaction is laughter.  I have no idea why.

I’m still laughing.  But I couldn’t think of any words to write about this anyway.  The music says it all.

Liz Frencham…..  What did Pete say about Frencham?  “heartfelt and open?”  I would label her warm and inviting.  Not only does she have an award-winning smile, she writes the lyrics fantastic.  Just listen to the story she wields in this video.  And don’t feel shy about turning it up.  It is just Liz and her bass and some outstanding talking lounge jazz of sorts.

For those who love Pete Seeger, here is a song written for his 90th birthday by Nancy Kerr and performed by Frencham and a funny dude named Martin Pearson.  This is entertaining stuff.

And just in case you’re interested…..

I think the thing that upsets me more than anything is that I did not know any of the artists whose names were handed me by my favorite Aussies.  I need to petition for a second life in hopes of catching up.

Next week, if the brain cells allow it, Ayn Rand vs. Christian Vander— A Philosphical Cage Fight.

Music Notes smallNotes…..  I’m limiting my Notes for this week to lobby for Portland’s Music Millennium‘s kickstarter campaign.  A few of you have made comments about a campaign to help or save a business and I would like to take this opportunity to respond.  One:  The Millennium, to me, has never been a business.  The first time I stepped through the door back in 1971, it was more of a second home.  Though I didn’t sleep or eat there, I lived there in a sense.  Many of my breakthrough moments regarding music happened there.  Many of my friends either worked or shopped there.  Indeed, the store was a constant topic if conversation amongst us vinyl junkies.  Even friends who had never been there, when they found out I had, had questions.  It was and is a benchmark in the music world.  Two:  I consider anything I may have done for The Millennium to be payback.  What I have gained from the store more than equals anything I could possibly do toward helping it out.  Or them, because MM Beer“it” just doesn’t describe the Millennium experience.  Three, and my main point:  Owner Terry Currier is one of the best people I have ever known and has never asked for anything from the music community outside of that which made that community better itself.  Over the years, he has developed unheard of cachet among musicians and music lovers alike by letting his actions speak for him.  He has done more to keep music alive in Portland than anyone I know.  With this campaign, he is not taking.  He has earned everything we can do to help him reach this goal.  And the really cool thing is, you will get something very cool back.  Those pint glasses with the Millennium logo on them are automatic collectors items.  Order one or two.  Pass a few bucks along for a good cause.  You know how billionaires have to show huge amounts of cash to get through a congressman’s or senator’s door?  All it will take is a Millennium glass and I’ll let you through mine.  I’ll even throw in an ale to fill it with.  Nothing like talking music over a cold brew in a Millennium glass, don’t you know.  You have until noon or so Saturday, March 29th.  Order yours.  Click here and learn how.


Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

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DBAWIS ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.” 




3 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Down Under Down Under: Band Picks By My Favorite Aussie Musicians”

  1. frank davidson Says:

    Hi Frank another Frank here and an acquaintance of Bill’s…for further names you may also want to check out Geoff Achison -Guitarist extraordinaire, also Chris Wilson (Shannon was orignally in a band with Chris the spidermen and I agree with your thoughts about Shannon,he is a monster guitarist), few other names include Marco Goldsmith’s Blue Heat (google them), horn based guitarist driven bluesy soul from the great ocean road in Southwest Victoria (warrnambool), also Richard Tankard (Keys)
    Shane Howard & Marcia Howard – had a massive aussie hit with Solid Rock in the 80’s and now solo stuff and both very talented, and without going on for hours, on the jazz scene, Barney McCall now based in NYC, pianist, winner of numerous jazz awards also on facebook,
    Julian Wilson, tenor sax,
    Paul Grabowsky, pianist composer artisan, etc…
    Bluesy vocalist Kerri Simpson is also worth checking out, Shannon plays inher band regularly and Kerri is arguably the queen of blues as far as I am concerned, her new CD 4AM on you tube but in concert a powerhouse performer.
    Country side, also worth checking Pete Denahy, Damian Howard & The Ploughboys (brother of Shane & marcia), and alt country folk bush etc, Sal Kimber & the Rolling Wheel, Sal is from my neck of the woods and one very talented band. At any rate good read and I wlll now bookmark your blog, heck I may even friend you on FB and one last thing, we run lots of great festivals down under, Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival each November, Port Fairy Folk in March and Yackandandah Folk Festival also in march, all on websites for more info.
    Frank Davidson

    • Good name. Frank. Jeez, you must think I have more time than I seem to have, but wrote every name down in my b ook for the future. Maybe the list will be Part Two. I love the Net! I get so much good info from people like you, I could not possibly catch up. Thanks for the info. Keep bugging me. One day I will start clicking the keys and get Part Two on the site. And thanks for the message! Sometimes I think I’m all alone out here.

  2. […] Hannah Gillespie (whose All the Dirt album still knocks me out) choosing Leah Flanagan, The Snappers, John Williamson (actually Hannah’s boy Kai Gillespie‘s pick); Munro Melano, whom I found through Hannah, going with Fink (who, as it turned out, was British but I always cut musicians slack), Ngairre, and Mechanical Pterodactyl; Bill Jackson favoring Raised By Eagles, The Weeping Willows (who are right now doing very well in The States), The Stillsons, and Shannon Bourne, who just recently released an album of experimental instrumental music I find quite adventurous and pleasing; Pete Fidler, cohort of Bill Jackson, picking out Jeff Lang, Andrew Winton, and Liz Frencham. Even a responder to the column, one Frank Davidson, chipped in with a list as long as my arm. (You can access that column by clicking here) […]

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