It’s not exactly Frank Sinatra circa 1966. But the phrasing of “my heart is like a stranger in the night” in entrée Let The Satellites Fall is a salient signpost to romantic imagery by Ballarat band Matheson. That’s the same band that scored home state exposure as support for Louisiana swamp pop octet Lil Band O Gold on its debut Australian tour in March.
But the imagery is much darker in 1859 – a love story set in days of yore when city chaps invaded the bush, panning and digging for gold. The sailor in the song returns from across the ocean in response to a letter from a lover with marriage plans. Sounds like faded love as he reveals on his return “flowers of romance no longer bloom” – and “the town is not worth fighting for.”
And don’t be dissuaded simply because Matheson may be marketed as alt-country. There’s none of the barking dog distortions favoured by those total depression dirge practitioners in these 11 songs.
Singer Aaron Matthews drives an accessible vocal vehicle that speeds and slows to suit mood swings. That’s low gear for Lullabies and cruise control for the vitriolic parody of political puppeteers priming the fear pump in masters of war reprise Safe For Now. The band explore diverse shades of love – a fortune teller-fuelled fear in the jaunty Caroline Blues, where the character’s songs fall on deaf ears, and the same emotion at journey’s end in Forever Girl. And maybe this is too analytical, but the vixen – spawned by paternal butcher and maternal lawyer – in I Was Her Man, may be easily identified if she hails from Ballarat. Then again, perhaps not. It’s a large place, after all. But the literary licence to print this manipulative, flawed princess may have been issued far from the scene of the rhyme, and it beats a hasty retreat from a chilling crescendo. Either way, you get the picture – these wanton women are not bucolic Betty Crockers of a new era.
Mary Lynn is a barroom rose who wilts in the neon glow and the lass in She Was From The Country ends life as a blood splattered boomerang. This intriguing disc ends with optimism – The World Still Turns Me On – and surreal splendour in The River & The Sun. Bassist Markus Perry, drummer Stevie Martin and Yuko Nishiyama on keyboards all help and enable guitarist Matthews (as well as guests Dan Houlihan and Cam McKenzie) to ensure the narratives are never drowned. Lovely.
– David Dawson