KEVIN BENNETT & THE FLOOD
Blood Red Ties (https://kevinbennettandtheflood.com/)
Should a fuss be made about perfectly reasonable, humanist, thoughtful ideas that don’t pander?
I mean, this album is not just a solid mainstream country record in parts, it’s also in other parts a reminder that alt.country has a longer history than a revival in checked shirts and questionable beards. It has a lot of good songs, a lot of very good playing, and does it all without fuss.
Down The Line doesn’t just pay homage to a great Australian tradition of bluesy country rock as represented by The Dingoes, it brings them in to play on the song – yes, that’s Kerryn Tolhurst on steel! – and burnishes that tradition. And as the easy paced Charlie Boy crosses into straight country that looks more to Texas than Tennessee, Blue Again flips a backroads verse into a highway chorus that heads into the sunset during a vivid little guitar solo.
On Olive Branch, a duet with Camille Te Nahu on counter-story, the slow revolving song keeps its momentum with little tom-tom fills and the implied direction of the guitar, the voices keeping fires in control even as the lyrics take on more pointed moments. And there’s something of Ian Moss’s smooth soul and Richard Clapton’s pop in Lion Baby (For Atlas), a lovely glissando into the short, mellow guitar solo perfect for a ‘70s afternoon looking over the balcony to a distant pocket of ocean.
Given all that, does it matter that there’s different, you might say in this context dangerous, ideas within? Maybe. Yes. Actually, definitely.
There isn’t a huge surprise that Kevin Bennett isn’t bothered hiding his questions about casual xenophobia*, grasping what a connection to the land means beyond owning it for a couple of generations, and escaping abuse that goes beyond family to a wider, uglier society. Nor that they sit alongside songs which also address “easier” fare, such as parenthood, missed chances for love and day to day despair, that might appear in other works.
In the album he made with Felicity Urquhart and Lynn Bowtell last year – as Bennett Bowtell & Urqhuart – Bennett went there, with the three of them offering critique and better ways to be Australian. In a decidedly pretty record it hit home even harder.
On Blood Red Ties, Bennett asks what’s the difference in someone’s character between been sent here for stealing a loaf of bread and someone “wanting a better future for their daughter, for their son”, as it all down to voting for “point of difference”?
Most of the songs turn on pretty much that question of how you value character, whether it is the man whose luck has turned even worse in Just Another Town (“His birthday present wintercoat from Vinnies ‘79/Kept the Melbourne chill from his Sydney bones, in the wintertime.”), or the one searching for redemption in Spaghetti Western (Gaarruma Li) (“His wide eyes are flailin’ like butterfly wings/He hears music in the slipstream when the siren sings.”).
Even when he’s judging though – and you better believe in The One, when he sings “and we’ll go on building monuments to every wicked we’ve done”, that he is judging – Bennett still puts his faith in the women and men around him, not a myth or a higher power.
That faith may be the most radical thing of all on this album.