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The Summertimes (Rank And File)


Radio Sketches The Third (via Bandcamp)

TREASURES? GET ‘EM while you have ‘em. Or make ‘em if you can.

In recent years, John Kennedy – who travelled from Brisbane to Sydney with his band JFK & The Cuban Crisis in the early ‘80s, before a long career with various bands and as a solo artist – has released albums called Raining Treasures, covering songs of his fellow travellers from the golden period of Australian indie/alternative pop.

Or at least the “golden period” as described/ascribed by those whose formative years as music fans fell into that period of the early ‘80s to mid ‘90s, since we all know that at any point in the past 100 years the Best. Music. Evah! was made when whomever is asked was 15-25. That’s science.

Raining Treasures (for those whose own golden/formative years arrived before/after this, the title is a play on a song by The Triffids, Raining Pleasure) mostly contained songs that got high on melodies and rarely touched blues, used guitars to jangle, propel and slash rather than thunder and storm, loved a harmony or two but just as passionately loved some trash culture, could name you powerpop bands by the dozen and every variation of Neil Young’s first two decades but grew up having country music infiltrating the house, spoke of love most often but had a view on the state of the world, and dug surf songs more than actual surfing.

The self-titled debut by The Summertimes (released some months back – sorry to be late) is a kind of make your own Raining Treasures, freely and joyfully tapping into the musical well that would have seen them on the bill of shows at the Hopetoun or Trade Union Club, Stardust Hotel or Family Inn, Rydalmere, any day of the week back in the golden years.

It’s an album of compact form (10 songs in 34 minutes) but expansive intent, with a run through styles of the gold times done with care and the prospects of a future appearance on someone’s Raining Treasures collection in 2045. Or you might even call it 10 singles in need of good homes.

My Beautiful Girl Harbour snaps to attention with a splash of guitars and drums, immediately hums in its backing vocals and brings forth a late acoustic guitar solo, then crushes resistance with a (delayed) chorus that is both sugared and yearning. Love (It’s The Word) softens that power pop into a jangly creaminess that is halfway between Sydney paisley shirts and New York tight trousers. And then Athens, Ga brings a kind of dreamy overlay and “you can fall on me” text over a might-as-well-be-a-Rickenbacker guitar figure, a combination which might suggest one particular band from the titular town.

The sunshine is put aside in Where The Lights Hit The Square, the wistful turning into loss just before the drums and then horn pull up in a resolute bus, Password has running, jumping (barely) standing still energy but a more questioning core, while The Perfect Wave starts as if it will be a home for a blonde pudding basin haircut drummer rumble but in fact turns into more of a buzzcut and short sleeve shirt punch, the surf turning rougher and the ah-ah-ahs up the back clearing a path for a showy guitar solo.

Maybe this will most – only? – appeal to people of a certain vintage and a lifelong taste for exactly these sounds. And as one of them, I say what’s wrong with that? But you can just enjoy them as three-four minute pop songs that don’t require a checklist or a memory just an ear, because they are a pleasure.

Charles Jenkins, whose own distant start was towards the end of the aforementioned golden period and whose main band in the subsequent years, Ice Cream Hands, is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the absolute giants of the three-continent guitar pop years, is a national treasure. And a clever bugger.

Not smartarse clever though: he doesn’t do mockery (except occasionally of himself) or assault of his subjects or listeners, and each character or tale is treated with compassion as much as insight. And not just name your song and style and he can write it beautifully, clever: though we could see he has that in the first two editions of the Radio Sketches series, all of them songs written and recorded in a week to a nominated topic/theme for a radio project, one which reaches another lovely moment in this latest collection, Radio Sketches The Third.

The cleverness comes in putting those two things, a genuineness and a genuine talent, into songs that keep making you fall for them because you feel them, and feel not just the counterintuitive heat-dolorous mood of the autumnal So Much For Summer but the Melbourne living-in-miniature of the lyrics.

And that’s whether you are a fan of slow cowpoke balladry Ray Price or Johnny Horton might have sung over the closing credits of a western (Go West), a punchy, guitar-drenched power-pop song The Summertimes would appreciate (Adhere To You) or a gently creamy piece of 1970s fare (Letting In A Little Light).

Even more compact than The Summertimes (while Jenkins’ record has 11 tracks, it comes in marginally over 30 minutes – which fans of the Raining Treasures era will know is three minutes longer than the fab debut album from The Numbers), The Third nonetheless is an expansion of sorts. It is credited to Jenkins and his Ice Cream Hands partner in crime, Douglas Lee Robertson, who has been arranging and building on Jenkins’ songs through the series.

Their work in creating full bodied but never weighty sonic environments means the light-stepping Don’t Need No Valentine comes over as a whistling nod to Hot Club swing without ever declaring itself jazz in any way, that the Needles & Pins-ish jangle of Are They Real? stays low-key rather than dominating, but the vocals and tone of Mercy hold the centre and almost mesmerise.

Treasures? He makes ‘em.


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