Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Record Review: Clare Bowditch

One of the problems I have encountered since returning from my trip to Australia, is that most of the other people in America don't seem to share my interest in the land down under. Sure, thousands of people visit Oz each year, but most of them probably don't delve into the music, art and literature scene like my wife and I did. So, when those other people get back they take the picture of the whole family in front of the Opera House or Uluru (that's the proper name for Ayers Rock whitey) and send it out as their Christmas card and remember a great trip.

I have spent hours and hours listening to streaming audio from Triple J, the nation's youth radio station, to listen to what I didn't stumble upon while we were there. Some how, in all of the hours we spent in record stores in Sydney, Cairns and Melbourne I missed Clare Bowditch, and I wish I hadn't. I have a bad habit of becoming interested in Aussie artists who don't have a deal with ITunes or MusicMatch, so I can't just download their records. I either have to pay upwards of $40 to pick them up through an American website as an import (which I wont do) or I have to order them from an Australian site and have them shipped to me here.

That is what I did with an album called "She Will Have Her Way" which is a collection of the music of Neil and Tim Finn as performed by female artist from Australia and New Zealand. This was the second time I heard Clare, as she did "Fall at Your Feet" which was outstanding. After a bit more research I knew I had to pick up some of her stuff, but once again I wasn't going to be able to get it with out going very long distance. I put off the purchase for a while, because I had a few other things I wanted first, one of which was "Like a Version" a compilation put together by Triple J featuring artists live, mostly acoustic renditions of previously released work. Once again Clare was featured on this record with her version of Rufus Wainwright's "Hallelujah" which once again was superb. I bumped "What Was Left" to the top of my list.

"What Was Left" is a complete record, filled with amazing lyrics and skillfully excited melodies. Bowditch has a full and rich singing voice which she uses to deliver words that actually say something. Pay attention Pop Stars of the world, you can say something with your music. The album doesn't come off as preachy or a recording from a therapy session, however. The tales weaved by Bowditch ring just true enough to be relatable to almost anyone, but are obviously her story. The best example of this is "When I was Five" which is an open letter to her sister who passed away when she was a child. Even though I did lose a brother when I was young, I thought this song spoke to me just as much when thinking about the loss of my father even though I was an adult then. Who doesn't feel as powerless as a child when confronted with the loss of someone close?

Other stand out tracks include: "Lips Like Oranges" "Little Self Centred Queen" (not a typo, its the Queen's English) and "Divorcee by 23" which I think is the keystone of the record. My guess is some would call Bowditch a folk artist, and they may be right, but I don't see it that way. There is no banjo here (not that it is always bad, I really enjoy the band Girlyman who employ more of a folk background) and the songs would fit nicely into any modern popular radio rotation, which is to say "pop music."

I prefer to think of some of these new artists like Girlyman, Jenny Lewis, Missy Higgins and Bowditch as story tellers, and frankly fantastic musicians who don't see fit to conform to what is the norm on radio. Maybe that means you will never see them on MTV, and that may be for the best. I do hope they keep it up because it's some good work out of them.

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