Interweaving Cultures with Nicole Alexander

[Editor/Author Note: In 2014, I was lucky enough to interview Nicole Alexander about her (then) new book, The Great Plains. This is the resulting interview, which was originally published by Hush Hush Biz. To celebrate the upcoming release of Alexander’s seventh novel, An Uncommon Woman, I thought now would be a great time to share this little flashback!]

Upon the release of her fifth book, The Great Plains, Australian author Nicole Alexander remains humble despite her success.

Leaving behind a high-flying, international career in marketing, Nicole Alexander returned to her family’s property in country New South Wales in the 1990s and quickly found herself immersed in running the family business. Continue reading

Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me (Literature Review)

According to science fiction author Tricia Sullivan, her latest novel Occupy Me represents “twenty years of growth … in every way I can gauge, it outstrips anything else I have written.”

Even before the release of Occupy Me in January of this year, Sullivan has been well-regarded in the world of science fiction. Though she says it is not her best work, her 1998 novel won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award (for Science Fiction Literature), ranking her among some of the world’s great novelists, including Margaret Atwood and Australia’s own George Turner.  She has since gone on to write five other novels under her own name, as well as be nominated for that same prize.

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Get your copy of “Occupy Me” from QBD.

Occupy Me is the story of Pearl – a woman with wings struggling to find her way back home. The problem is, her home isn’t Earth, and she has no real recollection of how she got here. As if that wasn’t enough, the key to solving her mystery: a portal briefcase with access to another dimension, is now in the possession of a psychotic killer posing as the gentle doctor whose body he has overtaken. And he seems hell-bent on destroying the world. Can Pearl catch up to him before he succeeds? Will she find out who she is and return home?

I really wanted to like this novel. Though science fiction is not my usual genre of choice, I was intrigued by the premise and eager to get started, ready to fall in love with a new favourite author. Sadly, this was not the case.

In my opinion, there were too many plot lines in this novel. At times it seemed a bit like a draft, where Sullivan had all these thoughts down on paper in a rush to get to the ultimate climax of the story, but then failed to go back and tie up those loose ends, leaving readers with more questions than answers upon the novel’s conclusion.

Though the characters in this novel were interesting and dynamic, they were overshadowed by complex storylines and a lack of explanation in general. I certainly didn’t see how this could be what the author pretty much referred to as her crowning glory.

This is definitely not what I was expecting from an author so highly regarded and not really enough to make me want to read more of her work. If I was to do so, it would only be for comparison’s sake.

Occupy Me is out now through Hachette Australia.

 

[Editor/Author Note: This review was published by Hush Hush Biz in 2016. View it in its original capacity here.]

Jackie Dee – Six String Heart (Album Review)

As a family therapist and singer-songwriter, Jackie Dee is one busy woman. However, when it comes to music she is not afraid to shy away from tough topics such as domestic violence and mental illness, as evidenced in her third album, Six String Heart.

Though she has been the recipient of many awards and accolades for some time now, it wasn’t until I was asked to review this latest release that Dee’s music featured on my radar. While her debut EP, Tide (2010) earned her high praise from contemporaries in the regional country music arena, she really made a splash in 2013 with her second record, Doors & Windows, when two of the songs earned her a place in the Top 30 of the APRA Professional Development Awards and a Music Oz Awards nomination.

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Check out “Six String Heart” on Apple Music!

Armed with this knowledge, I was eager to see what this obviously talented musician had to offer in Six String Heart, which was officially released at this year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival.

With a strong focus on storytelling and lyricism – reflective of Dee’s comment that this album is a “collection of songs to symbolise a monumentally challenging time for me and my family” – one would be forgiven for expecting the album to feature more traditional-sounding songs, telling stereotypical tales of the downtrodden in life.

As evidenced by album opener and current single, Contemplating Life, this is not always Dee’s approach. While the songs may feature poignant lyrics with an underlying thread of heartbreak, the album has an almost rock/pop-like edge, a freshness that one can easily imagine being played on mainstream radio, alongside the likes of Taylor Swift or Keith Urban.

That said, the ballads are just as important, if not more so, than the more upbeat songs. Take Shipwrecks, for instance, a beautiful duet featuring Shane Nicholson.  Her Free Will tackles domestic violence against women, with a poignancy and timeliness that cannot be denied. Both songs are perfect for showcasing the beauty of Dee’s unique voice and her talent for crafting a great song.

Nicholson returns to feature on the title track, and while there is no ignoring how well these two complement each other, you can’t go past the heart wrenching tale told in Zeppelin’s Playing – which was written about Dee’s final moments with her brother, who recently passed away after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Slightly more pared back than the previous ballads that have featured on the record so far, it’s tenderness and simplicity is enough to tear at even the hardest of heartstrings.

There’s a minor change of pace for the last three songs, if only in terms of a musical sense. It makes for a nice balance of light and dark. Special mention must go to the bluesy intro of Your Girl (another song that is sure to become a favourite) before Summer Wind closes what is, overall, a diverse and vibrant record from a very talented singer-songwriter.

Wholeheartedly, I have no hesitation in recommending Six String Heart to not only country music fans, but music lovers everywhere.

[Editor/Author Note: This review was originally published by AMNplify. To view it on their website, click here.]

 

Honeyblood – Babes Never Die (Album Review)

Following a successful debut album in 2014 and support slots alongside the likes of Deap Vally, Foo Fighters and Australia’s own Courtney Barnett, Scottish duo Honeyblood make a welcome return to recording with their second full-length release, Babes Never Die.

From the second I hit play on Babes Never Die, the speakers fill with a cacophony of noise, like a café on a Monday morning, filled with too many people all engaged in their own conversations and their own worlds. It’s an intro designed to grab the listener’s attention and successfully does so, drawing you in and heightening the anticipation for the first full length song.

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Buy your copy of “Babes Never Die” on iTunes. [Image courtesy of FatCat Records/Cooking Vinyl Australia.]

As someone who hasn’t paid much attention to the duo’s music, I didn’t really know what to expect from an album. With its grungy yet raw rock influence, the title track seems to hark back to the duo’s previous singles (and the only ones that I have heard before now), Killer Bangs and Super Rat. It’s a great way to start off a second album, both as a solid introduction to new listeners and a subtle reminder for long-term fans.

Ready For The Magic, one of Honeyblood’s most recent singles, has a girl group rock appeal that can easily be imagined on radio. Front woman Stina Tweeddale accent is particularly strong as she sings a catchy chorus to Cat Myers’ heavy drum beats.

Love Is A Disease and Sea Hearts continue the radio-ready feel of the album’s first two songs. Myers’ influence on these songs is not quite as apparent (in that the drums are not quite as heavy), they are solid tracks in which you can feel a certain shift in terms of both lyrics and sound.

While the previous tracks have that poppy sense that lend them to mainstream radio tracks that will see the girls enjoying even more success than they have already enjoyed, it is the more “experimental” songs – the ones that see Myers and Tweeddale really stretch themselves in terms of vocal delivery, musicianship, and of course, lyrical quality – that I enjoyed the most.

Walking at Midnight and Sister Wolf are prime examples of the duo’s capabilities. Broken up by the inclusion of the more “poppy” Justine, Misery Queen, these are two which stand out from all others on Babes Never Die’s twelve track listing. There is an edge of haunting overtones (and a dramatic electric guitar lead-in) in which the girls explore the darker side of their music.

Lyrics trigger visions of murky nights in the middle of nowhere; they capture the imagination of the listener and reinforce that the true purpose of a musician’s job is to tell a story. This is particularly evident when Tweeddale sings, “Walking at midnight, midnight/Let the night-time be a disguise” and “Can you hear the wolf?/ She’s gunna come after you, sink those teeth right through”  to a chorus of clashing drums and guitars.

In my experience, ballads are hard for a musician to pull off, particularly when the rest of their music verges on the rockier (and sometimes heavier) side, though if done well, they often make for some of the best songs on an album. Honeyblood’s Cruel Kids is perfect in proving this theory.

The song is almost acoustic in its delivery, with Myers’ drums only used sparingly to allow Tweeddale to shine. And shine she does. Despite the “rockier” edge to Babes Never Dies’ previous tracks, there was always a slight softness to Tweeddale’s voice that I was really looking forward to seeing showcased.

Her voice is enchanting as she sings, “Come here, lay your bones with mine/I feel wasted most of the time/And I’m destroying things, is that a sign?/Maybe I’m, maybe I’m not doing this life thing right.”  Cruel Kids does not disappoint, and is without a doubt, my favourite of the whole record.

Overall, Honeyblood’s Babes Never Die is an impressive effort, full of well-crafted, versatile tracks with tight musicianship and just the right amount of lyrical depth. With this album, the duo has certainly found a new fan in me.

[Editor/Author Note: This review was written for AMNplify in 2016. Click here to view it in its original capacity.]

 

 

 

Safe Hands – Tie Your Soul To Mine (Album Review)

Newcastle natives, Safe Hands first plunged into the Australian rock music scene 10 years ago as a hardcore band with an attitude to match. Their debut EP, Oh The Humanity (2011) and album, Montenegro (2013) earned them support slots with the likes of Norma Jean and Le Dispute, as well as a legion of fans they can now call their own. Their second album, Tie Your Soul To Mine is  out through Lost Boy Records.

After issuing a statement via social media earlier this year addressing their desire to change their public persona and the way in which they relate to fans, it is no real surprise that Tie Your Soul To Mine is a little left of field when compared to what Safe Hands followers are usually used to hearing from their favourite band. That said, they are not about to let go of their hardcore sound without a fight, with many of the tracks featuring that trademark heaviness of guitar, bass and drums.

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Stream Safe Hands’ new album via Bandcamp.

Much like the band itself, Tie Your Soul to Mine, pulls no punches as album opener, Coliseum 1921 begins with vocalist Benjamin Louttit singing, “You build a nest under the radar/ You ride that dead horse from winter to spring, only to realise that nag got you nowhere.” to a little low-key guitar playing. And it’s not long before the cacophony of noise that fans are used to kicks in.

 

The Safe Hands fans know and love find their groove with second track and single, Traffic Island Wreath. From that moment, the music draws in the listener and doesn’t let go. This is the music long-time lovers have been waiting for.

As a new listener not overly familiar with the band’s previous work, these heavier tracks are not necessarily to my particular taste, and for other “newbies”, they may be the equivalent of a punch in the face. But, as someone who is open to all kinds of music, there is generally something I like in all genres, and bands’ music, that surpasses everything else.

In Safe Hands’ case and Tie Your Soul To Mine in particular, the saving grace comes in their storytelling. There is a lyrical quality to each of the songs which, as a writer, I cannot ignore. The aforementioned lyrics of Coliseum 1921 are almost poetic in their delivery, as are that of Small Fortune and Pushed to the Moon – the latter of which has a little more of a “radio ready” appeal to it. In the second last song, Til The Birds Fell Off The Roof, Louttit sings, “Darling, green is the ugliest of colours on you.”, capturing the imagination of listeners beyond the music alone.

Of all the tracks, current single, The Great Affair (which is currently enjoying airplay on Triple J), the aforementioned Til The Birds Fell Off The Roof and Born in the Last Shower are the biggest highlights. For me, they fully showcase how the band have transitioned and grown as artists in the three years since Montenegro. The latter track, in particular, highlights the light and shade of Louttit’s vocals, which many listeners have not had a chance to explore in previous releases.

These particular songs, along with closing track, Wagtails, are in my opinion, the areas in which you can really see the meeting of Safe Hands’ so-called “new” and “old” sound meet to create an overall growth of the band as a whole.

Tie Your Soul To Mine represents something of a turning point for this band. In only their second album, they seem to have found their new sound and a new niche to explore. While this is something of an experimental release for a group that have relied heavily on their “hardcore” side, there is enough diversity within the tracks for both new and old fans to find common ground.

While you’re here, don’t forget to check out my interview with Safe Hands!

[Editor/Author Note: This review was originally written for AMNplify.]

 

Lucinda Williams – Ghosts of Highway 20 (Album Review)

Noted singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams’ rise to fame was slow and it wasn’t until the release of her third album in 1988 that she really made an impact. Since then, she has had a long list of hits including Still I Long for Your Kiss (from the film “The Horse Whisperer”), Changed the Locks and Steal Your Love. Over time, she has received numerous accolades for her music including three Grammy awards.

Williams has also made appearances on other artist’s recordings, including Kasey Chambers’ “Barricades and Brickwalls” (On A Bad Day), Elvis Costello’s “The Delivery Man” (There’s a Story in Your Voice) and most recently, provided backing vocals on Don Henley’s “Cass County” (Train in the Distance).

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Listen to “The Ghosts of Highway 20” on Spotify.

Now 63 years old, she returns with her twelfth studio album, “The Ghosts of Highway 20”. Despite having only been released earlier this week, the recording is already receiving rave reviews by critics and fans alike, something which caused me to have rather high expectations when it came to writing my own review.

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Interview with Pete Kilroy of Hey Geronimo

Aussie rockers Hey Geronimo are set to release their sophomore album and head back on the road to share their new music with fans. In light of that, I’m taking a trip down memory lane by posting this interview with the band’s lead singer, Pete Kilroy leading up to the release of their debut record, Crashing Into The Sun.

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Congratulations on finishing your debut album, Crashing Into The Sun. Are you feeling nervous in the lead up to its official release on July 1st?

Not really. We’ve crossed the t’s and we’ve dotted the i’s. We’re happy with the record, and that’s all you can really do, you know. We spent enough time making it; we didn’t rush anything. We’re happy with the way it turned out so it’s kind of like, it is what it is and the way it’s received is not up to us anymore.

 

How long have you been working on the record for?

It’s been a couple of years. We had some line-up changes which stalled our progress a little bit but once the line-up got settled, it came together quite quickly. We’ve got a couple of tunes off our last couple of EPs … We did two EPs and now we’ve got the full-length album.

 

What inspired you to write new music?

It was an interesting one, because the line-up changes made writing a little difficult. Once it got settled, Bingers [Bill Bingley, bassist] was really motivated. That sort of motivated everyone else. I think it was a case of getting new blood into the band and getting the right line-up, and everybody was motivated and everybody was keen, spurring each other on. That’s what motivated us [in] finishing the record.

We’d started it and we were well on the way to doing it. We just needed to make sure we had all our ducks in a row and once we had everything settled, it came pretty easy.

 

What has been your favourite part of the album-making process overall?

We really enjoy being in the studio, creating the songs, turning a demo into something more polished, I guess, for want of a better word. Just in the studio and being creative. Lots of musicians feel that way; it’s kind of the ultimate. ‘Cos you can’t do it all the time … That’s the most enjoyable part of the process for us.

 

What was the recording process like for this album?

We recorded in lots of different studios, lots of different producers. We recorded with Matt Redlich – who did all the Ball Park Music stuff, … Magoo – one of Australia’s most famous producers, really. We did some recording with Steven Schram (he mixed the record) – he does all of San Sisco’s stuff. We recorded some stuff ourselves.

It was a bit of everything; almost like a hodge-podge of piecing it together, making sure it was right, that we had the right songs on there and the sound was right.

 

You’ve done track-by-track album preview [nicknamed Twelve Days of the Apocalypse] recently on social media. How are fans responding to the new music so far?

I think it’s been good. This sort of thing’s been done before … but the fact that we’ve got little commentaries on there is really great. The fact that people can tune in everyday and hear a new song is kind of cool … We’ve got a different piece of art for every tune [featured in the videos] that tells a bit of a story about the song. It’s kind of cool to be able to show everybody that as well.

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Visit the band’s web-store to get your copy of Hey Geronimo’s debut album.

What’s your favourite track on the album?

Bermuda, song number six [on the album]. It’s a song Ross [Pearson, guitarist] wrote about his car going on an undersea adventure, which is a pretty original idea for a song, I think. It’s really cool … Usually with a tune, someone brings it in and everyone has a bit of their own input but [he] brought this song in that was a hundred percent finished, literally every last lick, every last note was pre-planned. You can hear it in the song; it’s such a well put together tune.

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Sigrid – Don’t Kill My Vibe (EP Review)

Having spent the last few years honing her craft, Norwegian artist Sigrid is tipped to have a stellar career following the recent release of her debut EP, Don’t Kill My Vibe.

According to her label, Universal Music/Island Records UK, “she personifies cool, but doesn’t know it yet, and is as worth getting as excited about as when Lorde first appeared with Royals.” It’s a lot of hype to live up to, particularly for someone only just out of their teens.

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Download your copy of “Don’t Kill My Vibe” here.

Often younger artists will be touted as the “best thing since sliced bread”, only to fail when push comes to shove. Before listening to this record, I was a little cynical, although open to discovering a new pop gem, which is exactly what happened.

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Historians Examine Australia’s Immigrant Past in “Stories From The Sandstone”

Peter Hobbins, Ursula K Frederick and Anne Clarke’s Stories from the Sandstone: Quarantine Inscriptions from Australia’s Immigrant Past is a unique take on the long- documented history of Australia’s first immigrants.

From early on in Australia’s history, Old Man Hat in North Head was the landing point for many an immigrant looking to make a life in this young country. Set up as a quarantine station from 1835 to 1984, housing those who were suffering – or at risk of serious infections such as small pox, Spanish flu and typhus fever – often all these hopeful “refugees” would see of their new nation was makeshift hospital beds and the rigorous routines of many a doctor or nurse before succumbing to the afflictions of their plague.

So too, those who travelled overseas for business were subjected to a certain amount of treatment to rid them of potential infection before they could (hopefully) return to thefir friends and family. When the nation was afflicted by the dreaded bubonic plague, many Australians were sent to these quarters for treatment or to live out the rest of their painful days surrounded by those looking to make a life in Australia – a culmination of nationalities from all over the world including Britain, Greece, Japan and other Asian countries, Egypt and Ireland.

Stories from the Sandstone

Click here to get your copy of “Stories from the Sandstone”.

The 1600 people who passed through these quarters – however briefly – often shaped and impacted the way in which Australia grew as a nation, and would literally leave their mark upon the stone of their surroundings as evidence of their presence. But who were they? What happened to their families? What happened to those who survived? How were they impacted by their enforced stay in Quarantine prior to calling Australia home and beginning their new life as promised? Continue reading

In Conversation with Dr Gail Crossley-Craven

 

Published author Dr Gail Crossley-Craven talks about her children’s book, Poppy’s Walk, writing, and life’s lessons.

 

Congratulations on your book, Poppy’s Walk. Is it your first?

Poppy’s Walk is my first book. I have written courses and articles that are work-related but never a book.

 

What’s the book about?

Set on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, Poppy is going to visit her uncle. She is enjoying the experience of being with her family when something happens to threaten the walk.  This is a story about family love, an appreciation of nature, confronting fear and the wonderful relationship a child shares with her grandparents.

 

What inspired you to write the book?

The concept for Poppy’s Walk is a culmination of my personal reflections, likes and fears.  Growing up, I have spent many memorable holidays on the Sunshine Coast at the family beach house built by my father. I have very fond memories of my childhood experiences in Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast where I took long walks with my grandfather.

We would sit under grevillea and tea trees, eat red and green frog lollies, and philosophise about life. My grandfather would tell me stories of the past.  As we walked along the banksia lined track, we would pretend we were explorers encountering scary and exciting adventures along the way.  Even now, when I see and smell the banksia and grevillea trees, it takes me right back to that time to recall those vivid and precious memories.

 

How did the story come about?

My grandparents had a huge impact on my life. I have observed and learnt (and still am learning) from the loving way my parents embraced their grandparent role and the connectedness that continues from one generation to another. My four children enjoyed playing in the bush land of our family home and our grandchildren share that same joy. The invaluable experiences my husband and I have shared with our grandchildren are so precious as life can change at any moment. Our lives are narratives with ongoing chapters.

I embrace life’s lessons and cherish the importance and connection with my family.  “Everything happens for a reason” is a common saying of mine and I firmly believe it. I always look for the positive in a situation and the lessons to be learnt.  I am a perpetual student of life.

What’s your target audience?

Poppy’s Walk is an illustrated children’s book that is suitable for male and female children aged 2 years to 13 years. Teachers and parents will welcome the educationally-based activities while grandparents will relish a book to which they can typically relate and enjoy reading to their grandchildren.  There really is something for everyone.

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Visit Dr Gail Crossley-Craven’s website!

What do you want people to get out of reading Poppy’s Walk?

I wanted to connect with people in a way that they could relate.  Aside from the delightful illustrated story with soulful messages, Poppy’s Walk has over 95 educationally-based differentiated activities relating to the story.  This book is a valuable learning tool spanning across all areas of the curriculum; I wish I had this book when I was teaching. Having a PhD and a Masters degree in Education, I could not have published a book that wasn’t educationally advantageous.

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