Folk/rock

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Doug Wallen

Vast Var­i­ous Artists EMI Mu­sic In Septem­ber last year, more than two dozen mu­si­cians, writ­ers and vis­ual artists from around the coun­try flocked to Cos­sack, a de­serted set­tle­ment in Western Aus­tralia’s dry and sparsely pop­u­lated Pil­bara re­gion. The idea was to con­vene a cre­ative hub that draws in­spi­ra­tion from the open land­scape and his­toric build­ings — some­thing that Pan­ics front­man Jae Laf­fer had ex­pe­ri­enced first-hand on his own past trips there. He and mu­si­cian Qynn Beard­man in­sti­gated the coun­cil-funded project Vast, where cre­ative souls from dif­fer­ent back­grounds could re­act in­di­vid­u­ally to the place.

Such spon­ta­neous en­ergy is cer­tainly cap­tured on this com­pi­la­tion of 18 songs re­sult­ing from the project. Free of their usual song­writ­ing habits and con­straints, the as­sem­bled artists min­gle and ex­per­i­ment. Pow­derfin­ger’s Bernard Fan­ning winds up col­lab­o­rat­ing on two tracks: Ev­ery­thing, cowrit­ten with Alan Pi­gram and Abo­rig­i­nal film­maker Tyson Mowarin, and Ashes & Dust, co-writ­ten with Oh Mercy’s Alexan­der Gow shortly af­ter those two first met. Whether re­act­ing to the spec­tre of the re­gion’s min­ing and pearling in­dus­try or to the deep spir­i­tual qual­ity of the an­cient land it­self, the song­writ­ers each man­age to carve out their own in­di­vid­ual ter­ri­tory. Paul Dempsey gazes up at the im­pos­si­bly clear ex­panse over­head to pen The Sky’s Gone Miss­ing, while Sally Selt­mann re­flects on wat­tle trees and the wil­ful path of wa­ter on River River. Other con­tri­bu­tions are just as spe­cific, such as Adam Har­vey’s pas­sion­ate Red Dirt Town — which would sound right at home on mod­ern coun­try ra­dio — and Perth na­tive Ian Camp­bell’s alt-coun­try dust-up Ghost Town.

Yet other tracks zoom out a bit more: Oh Mercy’s Have a Lit­tle Faith traf­fics in wry so­cial com­men­tary and price­less rhymes such as, “I could live on rice and beans / Or go full bour­geoisie”. It’s no sur­prise that many of these songs feel un­com­monly in­ti­mate, from the earthy blues of Eskimo Joe front­man Kav Tem­per­ley’s Su­gar­stone to the brushed drums and lul­laby warmth of Tra­di­tion by The Healys; or that ac­claimed song­writ­ers such as Laf­fer and Augie March’s Glenn Richards turn in es­pe­cially fine work. Other artists do sur­prise: de­spite his past in com­edy projects in­clud­ing the Doug An­thony All Stars, Paul Mc­Der­mott is per­fectly earnest on the folkie Let Go, while Nick Shep­pard ends You Get What You Give with a lay­ered sin­ga­long.

The only qualm is that more women could have been in­volved, but that’s not to dis­count mem­o­rable con­tri­bu­tions by Mel­bourne folkie Rowena Wise, Pil­bara mu­si­cian and busi­ness­woman Josie Alec and song­writer Aimee Chap­man, one of the hard­work­ing pro­duc­ers be­hind the project. As Chap­man says in a short film doc­u­ment­ing the unique un­der­tak­ing: when one steps foot in these awe-in­spir­ing sur­round­ings, “I think you have to make art”.

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