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Minor Gold (MGM)


FONDUE PARTIES AND SISTER FERDINAND left scars, internal and external, that are hard to hide, this cannot be denied. But not everything went wrong, or importantly, stayed wrong, in a certain cursed decade. Which is good news for Minor Gold and John Rooney.

For example, my daughter can’t get enough of the jumpsuits, maxi-dresses, flares and platforms she raids from Vinnies et al, though cheesecloth, thankfully, has not reared its head. I don’t mind a leather pimp coat either and my wife rocks a Pioneer-logo Manly jersey whenever we go to the football, even if it’s best if we don’t mention the premiership years this season.

Elsewhere, Malcolm Fraser had moved from heinous to admirable before he joined Gough in the choir invisible (though John Howard, Parramatta Eels and Daryl Somers aren’t ever coming back from the shame file), and after decades of rejecting them, I’m as happy to listen to Karen Carpenter, The Allman Brothers and Steely Dan as I am Underworld, Taylor Swift or Big Thief (though ELO ain’t walking in these doors while I have breath).

So, yeah, the 1970s have no reason to hide their light under a bushel anymore, and are welcomed here.

As regular readers to this page would know there is one Australian who has been working assiduously in this time zone for a while, Joel Sarakula, a man with a marked fondness for easy rhythm, easy listening, easily enjoyed pop songs. Now, these two albums are setting up home in his territory. No smooth disco for them, but a pair of gentle on the ear, straight-no-chaser pop records whose flair seemingly dresses in flares.

Minor Gold, who are Tracy McNeil and Dan Parsons, and John Rooney, are not exactly new to the territory, but unlike the deeply embedded Sarakula they have come at it from neighbouring fields. McNeil and Parsons have been the core of the trans-Pacific country/rock band Tracy McNeil & The Good Life, while Rooney has a history going back to the very end of the ‘70s in power pop group, The Lonelyhearts, and later Coronet Blue, which blended in some West Coast rock. But in retrospect, you could say all their roads led to this.

There are contributions, on guitar, keyboards and (it’s the 70s!) saxophone for the Minor Gold songs but the tracks almost always present as the product of two voices and two guitars. That’s even when they have the affection, and maybe the affectations, of a trio – specifically, Crosby Stills and Nash – in the country shuffle of Tumbleweed.

Whether it is the gentle swaying of Note To Self, where Parsons takes the lead and McNeil the response, the picked-guitar and low-swelling keyboard of Cannonball, where their voices curl around each other, or the vigorously strummed acoustics and barroom piano of Wrong Side Of Love, the focus never is pulled from the dynamics of a duo.

Hoodwink has a bigger sound, more flesh on the bones for everything from the backing vocals and multiple keyboards to the firmer presence of drums. Old Man Running fills the space around Rooney’s reedy voice buoyantly, coming across like Jackson Browne being backed by Dragon. Lost Myself could be taking its cues from Richard Clapton and, especially, pre-TMG Ted Mulry: a melody that is caught between ache and pleasure, a rhythm that feels coastal, sugar in the backing vocals and some languid surf in the guitar solo.

But even at its most propelled, say in Strange Desire which wears its satin shirt open to the waist and surely has the solo played on a double-neck guitar, or its most cosmically layered, which would be the ecstatic gospel-meets-intense writer-at the-piano of Magic, you’ll find that Hoodwink doesn’t really want to power on any more than Minor Gold, where Mona Lisa puts twang into a night sky and the hushed Cannonball lays a warm blanket over anyone staring up at that sky.

That’s why you could imagine Rooney’s more poptastic Goodbye Ladies, where electric piano and guitar engage in the most charming conversation under voices that comfort and climb from a convertible’s backseat, swapping places with Minor Gold’s Don’t Change, a song whose Hawaiian shirt sax and conga rhythm might fly itself to Rio, and no one on either side objecting.

Where the differences come in is at the points of peaks and consistency. While Hoodwink has more bright highpoints but drops away noticeably in the second half, Minor Gold holds its more modest shape through all 10 tracks. There’s more pressure applied to Minor Gold to justify each spot and more freedom allowed on Hoodwink to indulge as necessary. The trade-offs show in the relative weaknesses.

Which one is for you? You know, it may well depend on how you remember the ‘70s, or maybe how you pictured the ‘70s you never had.


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