Raining Treasure (Australian Indie Gold Covers Vol.1) (Foghorn/MGM)
Having in some ways recreated or reimagined his own travels through the indie pop world of the 1980s and ‘90s on his 2017 album, JFK And The Midlife Crisis (reviewed here), Brisbane-raised, Sydney-lived John Kennedy dips back into the past – but this time a real past.
He and his long-running band of “experienced” gentlemen, his ’68 Comeback Special (Peter Timmerman on drums, Phil Hall on bass, Murray Cook on guitar), remake in their image songs by The Scientists and The Lighthouse Keepers, Triffids and Go-Betweens, The Hard-Ons and The Apartments, and some kid called Paul Kelly.
And the result is …
… not always fabulous, but mostly enjoyably effective.
The context is obvious: the music of contemporaries – some known to him; some played with him; some whose paths never crossed. But its drive is probably best understood by the illustrated image on the back of the album, something familiar to many more of us who didn’t make music, just inhaled it.
Here are some of those contemporaries, including Dave Faulkner of Le Hoodoo Gurus (with the wild hair he first sported) and Ray Ahn of The Hard-Ons (wearing a Residents t-shirt), standing in the sort of indie record store they spent hours in: soaking in the sounds, pushing the bloke behind the counter to play one of theirs, eyeing off the purchases of the much cooler kids.
Girl In The Sweater, a degree or two slower than when The Hard-Ons threw it at us, has a country swing with a big twanging guitar solo; Sacred Cowboy’s Nothing Grows In Texas brings the noir drama instead of the lurch; Leilani, released when Le prefaced Hoodoo Gurus, repositions the tribal thunder to Sun Studios as Kennedy gives it his best Elvis; and the always pretty Ocean Liner, by The Lighthouse Keepers, is Sydney indie balladry writ large (or small).
Cheekily, but quite justifiably, Kennedy doesn’t just pick up a Paul Kelly song that he’s written a kind of response song to (St Kilda To Kings Cross) but pokes into his own catalogue, with King Street, giving it added brass and flourish so it feels like high end casino cabaret.
They’re all fine, but perhaps unexpectedly the best bits are when there’s an extra edge, an unlikely one to Kennedy’s usual styles. The roiling swamp The Scientists gave Swampland here takes on a bit of loucheness that suggests fellow travellers, The Cramps, and Ed Kuepper’s Brisbane (Security City)/Electrical Storm isn’t here for any amused nod to anything, the band preferring to drive straight and seriously.
While the Radio Birdman tribute, When The Birdmen Fly, originally done by The Fun Things, sounds even more like The Sunnyboys, or pop Birdman as Kennedy notes in the liner notes, making The Go-Betweens’ Lee Remick into a swaying, chiming piece of island pop (with ex-Models percussionist Barton Price on vibes) even more courageously ups the attractiveness.
Sure, maybe you had to be there then to fully grasp the pleasures of this album now, but really, that’s who it was made for. So we’re not going to complain are we?
John Kennedy & His ’68 Comeback Special will launch Raining Treasure at Petersham Bowlo on Friday, June 21.