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

The Hun­gry Mile The Bushwack­ers In­de­pen­dent The Bushwack­ers have ac­com­mo­dated no fewer than 85 play­ers in their 46-year ex­is­tence — a ver­i­ta­ble who’s who of Aus­tralian mu­sic that has in­cluded the Pre­tenders’ bass man Pete Farn­don, Sky­hooks drum­mer Fred­die Strauks, Lit­tle River Band’s Steve Hous­den, Tim Gaze of Ariel and Rose Tattoo fame and the coun­try’s most renowned gui­tar guns, Tommy and Phil Em­manuel. Yet this re­volv­ing door of an en­sem­ble’s el­e­vated niche in the pan­theon of Aus­traliana cham­pi­ons and chron­i­clers owes as much to the sta­bil­ity and lead­er­ship pro­vided by its long­est-serv­ing mem­bers and singers, Dobe New­ton and Roger Cor­bett, as to its as­tute re­cruit­ment and song se­lec­tion. And so it is no sur­prise that the folk-rock­ers’ 24th stu­dio al­bum com­pares favourably with the best in their bulging back cat­a­logue. The Hun­gry Mile also con­sti­tutes one of the strong­est so­ciopo­lit­i­cal state­ments made by a band that was formed on the cam­pus of Mel­bourne’s La Trobe Univer­sity back in the hot-blooded protest days of the early 1970s. While the Bushies’ reper­toire has al­ways con­tained his­tor­i­cal lean­ings and sub­texts, a left-of-cen­tre bias pos­i­tively per­vades the lat­est wax­ing — even if the track­list in­cludes a plug for a ubiq­ui­tous hard­ware chain. The Bushwack­ers lat­est set com­mences with a trea­tise urg­ing cau­tion in gov­ern­ment pol­icy on gas and oil frack­ing ( Leave It in the Ground), co-writ­ten and sung with gusto by Cor­bett, who, like New­ton, has been a band mem­ber since 1980. The lat­ter sings an­other ro­bust song co-com­posed by Al­lan Caswell ( Gi­ant of a Man), which pays rich tribute to Gough Whit­lam and is car­ried by a jaunty tune that clev­erly morphs into the na­tional an­them at the tail end. De­liv­ered in uni­son, an­other Cor­bett-Caswell an­them, Repub­lic Day — com­plete with a Mid­dle Eastern mo­tif — makes the case for a new cel­e­bra­tion of na­tion­hood. The stir­ring Cor­bett-New­ton (and Colin Gen­tles) co-writ­ten ti­tle track tips a bat­tered hat to Aussie work­ers dur­ing the De­pres­sion. Rich Davies’s Dirt Un­der My Nails and Colin Buchanan’s Waltz­ing Aus­tralia ac­knowl­edge the con­sid­er­able con­tri­bu­tion made to the coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment by post­war mi­grants, the lat­ter song with as­sis­tance from John Wil­liamson, Sara Storer and a 25-strong celebrity Bush Choir that in­cludes other big names from the do­mes­tic mu­sic in­dus­try. In Aus­tralian for Bro­ken Heart, New­ton is joined on the chorus by the song’s au­thor, Kevin Ben­nett. Re­ferred to ear­lier, Cor­bett’s An­other Trip to Bun­nings siz­zles like the sausages avail­able most Satur­days at said fran­chise, although whether it’s ren­dered tongue-in-cheek or with rev­er­ence is open to de­bate. The Hun­gry Mile also in­cludes a lively med­ley of jigs and reels played with char­ac­ter­is­tic panache by the band’s distin­guished in­stru­men­tal­ists, and sev­eral sig­nif­i­cantly re­vamped ver­sions of bush mu­sic ev­er­greens. It’s an al­bum that should push the Bushwack­ers to­wards a golden an­niver­sary.

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