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Eight Guitars (LilliPilli)

EVEN IF YOU DON'T HAVE any of her superb soundtrack work, it seems rather odd that four decades into her career as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer and composer, that this is technically Amanda Brown’s first solo record.

It may say as much about her relative lack of ego as the vagaries of the music and film industries’ nomenclature (and sexism, ageism, narrowness etc etc). And maybe something about her stage of life and the state of the world during and post-plague times, judging by what Brown has said about the impetus for finally making this album.

“Ironically, I wouldn’t have had the self-confidence to release a solo album back when I first started writing some of these tracks. But I’m a postmenopausal woman and there’s a certain freedom that accompanies being metaphorically invisible. That’s allowed me to pursue a conceptual idea and complete it in my own time.”

But then, Brown’s approach to this record tells you a lot about her collaborative nature and ego too: the Eight Guitars being the tools used by eight different guitarists across the album’s eight tracks (including Brown), their differing styles and tones shifting Brown’s compositions or giving them distinct territories in which to exist.

The languorous Light Lingers On finds Damien Lane in reflective mode, sending ripples of prettiness through a subdued landscape where Brown is gently meandering-with-purpose as a kind of escape from disappointment. Each electric shimmer emphasises that this disappointment comes from a place of joyful memory, where “I can’t tell you why, when you’re gone, your light lingers on beyond”, and where the connection with a certain forlorn Eagles song is more than lyrical.

Where It All Began is more limpid still, slower too, Brown reclining, reaching out a hand to wave along progress. With the electric guitar tucked away in the back corner sending smoke signals into the air, Daniel Champagne’s finger-picked acoustic gradually comes to the fore, offering firstly a spry elevation, then an elegant denouement. And in Loss In The Wilderness, Americana-specialist Danny Widdicombe brings the low-lying heat cloud of a desert scene, bending with the breeze while Brown pitches herself into the Cowboy Junkies bar for a moment that is building its own temperature rise, finding “liquid amber, lips linking sweat” and minds turned to forgetting. Or blurring that memory until it may as well not exist.

Brown’s singing, whether it is the hushed soul torch of Trouble You’re In, the airy moves in Light Lingers On, the surprising precision of Unguarded Moment or the casual potency within the narcoticised mood of 1973 (Bruce Reid creating shadows but not gloom in the song’s Vietnam War backwash), stays low and enclosed. It is almost as if she prefers to work near the edge of our vision than in the centre of it.

See for example, The Deal – where Shane O’Mara creates a modern western atmosphere, halfway between Leone and early ‘90s Eastwood, without recourse to its most obvious tropes – and Brown again is prominent yet simultaneously receding from my view.

What may becoming clear, what makes sense of this approach I think, is that most of these eight tracks could work with a storytelling visual. As a soundtrack that is almost an equal partner to the pictures. They are mood, but enhanced; attention holding, but not grabbing. It is a collaborative spirit in an individual setting.

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