Bush Gothic – Beyond The Pale: Album Review

Third album from enigmatic and indescribable rising folk stars Bush Gothic that mines the Australian folk song collections.

Release Date: 29th July 2022

Label: Fydle Records

Format: digital / CD

When we think of indescribable Folk stars, our very own favourites, Lunatraktors, and their eccentric ‘broken folk’ spring immediately to mind. Along with Australian trio Bush Gothic (Jenny M. Thomas, Dab Witton and Chris Lewis), they share a similar mission in spreading the gospel for music in the folk noir vein – revitalizing traditional folk songs and in the case of BG, trad Australian folk songs. Transportation, heroes and villains are all ripe subjects for plunder. Old tales, new ideas. Burl Ives for the twenty-first century.

Take Jim Jones. A traditional ballad of deportation. Done by Dylan (and I have to own up to enjoying the ’93 live versions) but also distorted wildly by Lunatrakors. The Bush Gothic version lies somewhere between and opens up Beyond The Pale with what’s arguably the most famous of the Australian trad ballads. We’ll pass over Waltzing Matilda as do they as we travel through a set that’s measured in quantities of poignancy, heratbreak and despair. Nothing like a bit of misery to stir the soul. There is indeed, much in the way of mournfulness – “I’d rather drown in misery than go to New South Wales…” indeed.

The stark percussion contrasts with some stirring strings on Pub With No Beer, two musical themes which crop up at regular intervals. The rich arrangement sits at the core of Ben Hall Sleeps while the strong percussion lies at the core of Ballad Of 1891, yet what stands head and shoulders above any arrangements or performance is the general air of subtlety that’s applied to these songs. The analogy may have cropped up elsewhere, but the similarity to the music crafted by Elbow and Guy Garvey is at play here. Country Town is a fine example. Less is more in the brevity of the lyric is countered with an accompaniment that broods and flows beautifully.

The album also strikes at points where the piano is king – the pain of the London Convict Maid felt by the sobriety of both music with the groaning cello and lyric while Mines Of Australia sets the sombre mood (from a party of gold prospectors only one returns) against a more upbeat accompaniment. However, the pure charm of Road To Gundagai provides a personal highlight – one provided by the plunk of banjo and sprinkling of piano alongside a particularly emotive vocal from Jenny Thomas.

Beyond The Pale is a collection that’s not only educational, but adds a breadth to the folk song genre while containing some genuine gems, maybe even opening the doors to an untapped source. Evidence that highlights the traditional Australian folk song legacy.

There’s an album launch show at The Slaughtered Lamb in London on 30th July. Tickets here.

Here’s Jim Jones from the album:

Bush Gothic online: Website / Facebook / Instagram / Bandcamp

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