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.