Folk

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tony Hil­lier

The Nat­u­ral Se­lec­tion Aus­tralian Song­book Bush Gothic Fy­dle/Black Mar­ket Mu­sic

Re­vival­ist Jenny M. Thomas’s ar­rest­ing re­casts of dog-eared Aussie bush chest­nuts equates to what singers such as June Ta­bor, Anais Mitchell, Bella Hardy and Olivia Chaney have ac­com­plished with hoary bal­lads from the tra­di­tional English song­book.

With a lyri­cally pared-down and down­tempo, un­clut­tered ap­proach, the Mel­bourne songstress, fid­dler and pi­ano-play­ing re­vi­sion­ist en­cour­ages lis­ten­ers to view dusty odes to colo­nial her­itage in a fresh light.

Con­ceived dur­ing an artist-in-res­i­dence com­mis­sion at a school sited on Vic­to­ria’s his­toric gold­fields, The Nat­u­ral Se­lec­tion Aus­tralian Song­book fol­lows the foot­steps of 2011’s Bush Logic, though ex­hibit­ing a less lan­guid gait. Mourn­ful tales of treach­ery and trans­porta­tion con­cern­ing crim­i­nal women and con­vict men have been dragged from the 19th cen­tury, sliced and diced, and re­assem­bled with re­spect rather than rev­er­ence.

With her for­mer Cir­cus Oz col­leagues, bassist Dan Wit­ton and drum­mer Chris Lewis, and a guest string quar­tet, the leader’s ex­pres­sive singing com­bines with her adroit ar­rang­ing, com­pos­ing and edit­ing to re­shape hack­neyed stan­dards such as Botany Bay, Wild Colo­nial Boy, Swag on My Shoul­der and Waltz­ing Matilda. At the head of the song se­quenc­ing is a sur­pris­ingly jaunty and mer­ci­fully ma­cho-free ren­di­tion of John Wil­liamson’s True Blue. A later largo read­ing of Eric Bogle’s 1970s epic And the Band Played Waltz­ing Matilda is ex­ces­sively re­spect­ful to the orig­i­nal. Thomas’s edgy de­liv­ery of Fe­male Trans­port per­fectly com­ple­ments a pro­gres­sively har­row­ing nar­ra­tive.

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