Instantly enjoyable, well-produced and musically intriguing. The fifth album from New South Wales’ Angus Gill ticks the boxes.
Release Date: 4th October 2023
Label: Rivershack/ MGM
Formats: CD / Digital
Born, raised and resident in and around Wauchope, New South Wales, Angus Gill is, at the age of just 25, a music industry veteran. Indeed, he’s been writing and playing his songs since before his age reached double-figures and he released his debut album, Nomad, back in 2017, aged just 18. Departure & Arrival is his fifth offering and follows his previous release, the acclaimed The Scrapbook, his 2021 COVID-incubated project. As its title might suggest, the material on Departure & Arrival is, itself, a slight departure from Angus’ signature country/ Americana style, with sounds this time around also encompassing threads of country rock, pop, calypso, samba and the sultry jazz of New Orleans.
The musical explorations are intentional, as Angus explains: “I know I’ve been categorized as a country artist, and there still elements of country there, but I didn’t necessarily set out to create a country record. I’ve always been a fan of albums like Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson, Sgt Pepper’s, City To City and these classic albums I’ve been listening to since I became a vinyl hoarder, and I don’t like listening to an album where every track is the same tempo, the same feel, similar subjects.” And, happily, the experimentation is a success – at least in the opinion of this writer; Departure & Arrival is great fun, instantly enjoyable, well-produced and musically intriguing. If that’s the result that Angus was looking for – well: Mission Accomplished!
Angus is an avid reader, and, like many of us, that was particularly the case during the seemingly endless years of COVID. Departure & Arrival is peppered with literary references, inspired by the likes of Alain de Botton, Trent Dalton, Cormac McCarthy, Charles Bukowski and John Steinbeck; in fact, the album’s very title was inspired by the subject matter of Botton’s observational diary, A Week At Heathrow Airport.
Musically, Angus has drawn inspiration from Aussie musicians Eric McCusker and Billy Miller – a co-writer of a couple of the album’s tracks. Angus isn’t too proud to learn, as he is only too willing to admit: “I love hanging out with them and it’s a mutual thing: you pick up different ways of thinking and I’m very open to all of that. I am a very curious person. I am a very passionate person and I’ve always had a good relationship with my elders.”
Departure & Arrival gets off to a fine start with its breezy, down ‘n’ dirty opener, April Fool. It’s the kind of rootsy rock tune that master-class exponents like Leon Russell and The Stones were churning out so effectively as the sixties morphed into the seventies. Indeed, the bluesy piano lick that follows the song’s a-cappella intro is right out of the Russell songbook, before organ and guitar take over and the band start to strut. And that’s a groove that we stay with for the bright, driving You Wouldn’t Steal a Heart. The guitar work is outstanding – whether it’s the jangly lick that powers the song along or the sublime solos – and the lyrics – including lines like “You wouldn’t steal a front-door key, you wouldn’t steal a DVD” are alternately hilarious and inspired.
For the majority of Departure and Arrival, the casual listener would be forgiven for assuming that Angus is a native of Huntsville, Alabama, rather than Wauchope, New South Wales, such is the down-home authenticity of his vocal delivery, and that’s particularly the case for the album’s title track. “I’m an alcoholic Commie – the joke’s on me,” he sings, to a shuffling drumbeat; the organ fills might recall Dire Straits and Walk of Life, but, without doubt, this is full-bodied country rock at its best.
Inspired by Australian author Trent Dalton’s Love Stories, Little Green Man is sentimental delight. In a jaunty song that carries no extra baggage whatsoever, Angus tells the story of the loving relationship between a father and his young – but growing – daughter. The ‘Little Green Man’ of the song’s title refers, incidentally to the figure at a pedestrian crossing who advises whether we can ‘Walk’ or not. An interesting percussive package introduces Crying Out for Love, the second of the album’s singles. It’s a song with an irresistible calypso feel and accordion flourishes that add just a touch of Cajun spice. It’s light and easy, and it’s impossible not to groove along.
We’re back with Appalachian Angus for Can’t Kiss You Over Coffee, a pulsating country rocker, driven along by a persistent drum rhythm and a solid bassline and embellished by come nice chiming guitar and swirling organ. Angus really brings the song to life with his drama-school vocal delivery and I love his spoken word “I cayin’t kiss ya over corfee” in the song’s coda.
Perhaps a favourite song on the album – and maybe Angus’s best vocal delivery – comes with Start The Old Dance Again, a charming country waltz song. There’s a pedal steel on this one, and that’s always a sound to get me swaying, and it’s pure sweetness when the soft organ pulls in alongside.
And then: it’s all-change.
Out go the Appalachian vocal inflections and Angus is, once again, a proud New South Welshman, as he assumes his native accent for Something Fishy – a spoken word recollection of a fishing expedition that went terribly wrong. Awash with gritty guitar and slithery organ, it’s the third song from the album to be selected as single – and that’s despite the gory end to the song’s narrative… And we stay with Aussie spoken word for I’m Just Gonna Grab a Sandwich, the album’s equally sinister closing track. It’s a samba rhythm this time, laced with hot, tropical guitar, sultry organ and lazy sax. It might sound a bit like a Rolf Harris guest appearance on a Dr John track, but it’s tasty and highly enjoyable nevertheless, and a joyous end to a thoroughly remarkable album.
Watch the official video to Little Green Man – a track from the album – here: