In the processional tenor, the feel of something almost formal and measured, of The Killing Times, the grimness of the story told – the wars on the Australian frontier that for nearly 200 years we pretended had never happened – suggests the rest of Ruth Hazleton’s album will be intense, maybe even tough going.
That’s half true: Daisywheel is consistently intense. Heavy in tone more than sound, and littered with stories which, while ranging across American, British, European and local folk traditions (including one of Henry Lawson’s harshest and yet beautiful tales set to music by Hazleton) feel pretty close to contemporary Australia in deed and intention.
The Messiahs Of Hate, a Hazleton original about moral cowardice in hypocritical modern government, connects not just with the justifications once used in the days of The Killing Times but with the spiritual and physical weariness of the newly arranged traditional, I Wish The Wars Were Over.
Taking all of them further you can draw line to the barely contained anger of Hazleton’s State Of The World (the anger as much in the tense walking rhythm as the words) and the stifled yearning for release in Shackled (Song For Nudem Durak), which was written for an imprisoned Kurdish musician.
Having watched the scorching summer fires for months now, Past Carin’ - the Lawson poem - and its imagery of death and trouble, despair and isolation in an unforgiving Australia, does its work quietly but devastatingly. Not least as it is a rarity of a colonial tale told through the eyes of a woman.
But then it feels aligned with Through The Grove, a Swedish traditional of more nuanced fate for a woman not burdened with luck or great agency, while also acting as a kind of angled mirror to Ten Thousand Miles (maybe more familiar to some as The Turtle Dove by Ralph Vaughan Williams) where the promise of a return from a journey of ten thousand miles (“Though rocks may melt/And seas may burn”) has its premise tweaked further by chorus lines borrowed from My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean.
As for hard going? Hardly.
Sliding sometimes from folk into mountain country (the banjo trio of Same Old Man, Past Carin’ and the post-slavery work song Walking Boss) and even older sounds (Shackled, where Paddy Montomgery plays the lute-like yayli tambur) blurring the lines between lament and slow burning fever (I Wish The Wars Were Over), and subtly enhancing acoustic with shadings of rock and electronics (State Of The World, Through The Grove), there’s never too much weight to hold the songs down.
It’s serious, but it moves.