Singing with something to say

Issue 

Street Beat
Kev Carmody
Festival Records

Warrior in Chains — The Best of Roger Knox
Roger Knox
Enrec Records
Reviewed by Ignatius Kim

Kev Carmody is a master storyteller with a sharp, stirring lyrical style. His stories are poignant, often defiant, but always witty and contemptuous of the "pillars of society".

There's anger, but it's not bitter or cynical, as Carmody doesn't speak at anyone — he speaks with them. It's the sincerity and empathy that define all great popular political music, from Woody Guthrie (one of Carmody's formative influences) to the Clash.

Street Beat is a journey through street life in Queensland's Logan City, where many Murris live. Each song is a montage of imagery, offering a different glimpse of the town.

Opening with "Living South of the Freeway", we're taken on a quick ride with little time to ponder: "Cloned, postponed, disowned, methadoned, stoned/ Logan City — loaded with stops/ Down on the southside, we cop the lot".

The beat is frantic, several rhythm guitars buzz over each other while the sparse lyrics cut and bite. The lead guitar, played by Leroy Cummins (of Mixed Relations) who grew up in Logan City, howls through the song, underlining every word. The production is skilfully balanced.

"Darkside" is a stroll that affords us a closer look. The words are quietly semi-spoken and Andrew O'Phee's mandolin is melancholic, but the song is not about sorrow or lament.

We're reassured of that with the next track, "Street Beat", where Carmody's defiance returns:

"We don't want your sympathy/ We don't want your rage/ We don't want your schoolin'/ Or the handouts

you call a wage/ Or to follow your conclusions/ Every time you turn a page".

The fast, blues-style, acoustic guitar accompaniment is agile and forceful. It is the style that marked Carmody's debut and the one which comes across best.

"Rider in the Rain" takes us to the end, and the journey is fully explained: "In this patriarchal society in which we live, there are those that worship the gods of 'Progress and Development', they are the elite that control us, the dispossessed. More disconcerting however are those, the majority that don't realise that they are shackled to the 'Progress Freeway'." The mood is poignant, accentuated by Murray Cook's (Mixed Relations) piano and the mandolin.

Warrior in Chains is a compilation of songs by Koori country performer Roger Knox. Knox has a very soulful, blue singing style that is sharpened by his political consciousness.

The title song deals with deaths in custody and was written by Native American Daniel Beaty. Knox and his band Euraba have played in Australian and Canadian prisons, which both have a high imprisonment rate of indigenous people. Other songs on the LP also deal with the problem, like "Goulburn Gaol".

A variety of styles is skilfully covered, from Chuck Berry's "Maybeline" to gospel songs "He Touched Me" and "Put Your Hand in the Hand". There is also a tongue-in-cheek version of "Teddy Bear" renamed "Koala Bear".

Overall, it is pleasant listening, even if a touch sentimental. The cover painting, by Danny Eastwood (Aboriginal Artist of the Year, 1988), is also worth noting. It is titled "In the Between Time" and depicts a "sorrowful Spirit watching ships arrive on the horizon — the beginning of the end of the Dreamtime".

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