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Take Me To Town: An Australian Alternative Country Compilation (Stanley)

Alternative country? Americana? Country rock? Roots music? Just plain country? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and, perhaps surprisingly, yes.

There are many ways to describe the music in this compilation, some of them seemingly contradictory, especially the idea that what might appropriately be called standard country music fits in with what are by definition, the alternatives.

But of course, the lay of the land in Australia as much as in the industry’s centre, the USA, has made the kind of music everyone called country before the pop invasion of the 1990s (whether it be bluegrass, western ballads, honky tonk, or even the highly commercial countrypolitan) effectively outliers, resolutely not country as approved by labels/radio/(no)tastemakers.

In this upside world therefore, the alternative scene is the inclusive, adventurous and simultaneously traditional and respectful side of the business – not afraid of women being something other than polite and only just post-pubescent - while the mainstream plodders principally make ordinary-to-shit records.

And that inclusivity is one of the best features of the 47 tracks (more than half previously unreleased) compiled by dogged, practical, passionate supporters, Stanley Records boss Dave Favours and Areatha Bryant of Mother Hen Touring, and Chris Familton, a tireless champion of the “other” at his Post To Wire site.

The whiskey-swagger (whammy) bar band of Amber Rae Slade’s Yippie Ki Yo Ki Yay and the bango-and-fiddle twang of Bill Jackson’s Rollin’ Into Rosine, share room with the ‘70s Los Angeles cruise of Tracy McNeil’s Long Way Paradise and the cowpunky Woke Up Sad from Micky Daley, as much as Jen Mize’s earthy from-the-hollers strength in Over The Mountain and the Ryan Adams lifestyle choice of David Garnham’s Worst House In The Best Street.

Similarly, William Crighton’s southern folk blues Riverina Kid and Weeping Willow’s atmospheric mountain high Devil’s Road are contrasted with the downhome prettiness of Helen Townsend’s Promised Land and the boogie of Rolan Kay-Smith’s New Girlfriend. And dotted among them are outright attractive voices such as Peta Caswell, on Hard Work, and Rich Davies, on Covered In Dust, with huskier or rougher types such as Ben Leece, on Twenty One.

Inevitably, as 47 high quality tracks is a big call for any collection, let alone one taken from the tiny pool of Australian alternative country, Take Me To Town has its merely adequate tracks. Disc two in particular runs out of drive in its second half, while elsewhere Spurs For Jesus, with guest vocalist Lo Carmen, come over a little too drowsy on the sleepy Curtain Call, Mitch Power’s Nowhere Else meanders past, and Den Hanrahan’s soul-flecked Church Of The Lowly needs a lift of energy and, well, soul, to make it sound less like an Australian Crawl discard.

Speaking of which, it would have been bold but interesting to see an old hand like James Reyne in here, not to mention people like Jenny Queen. And does anyone know if Corrina Steel is still making music? Something for Take Me To Town volume 2 maybe.

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