There have been some great Australian releases this year.
The bold and polished Before Darkness Comes A-Callin’ by The Weeping Willows, Sweet Jean's dark and atmospheric Monday To Friday, Bill Jackson's colourful The Wayside Ballads Vol. 2 and the dirt-road imagery of Shiner by Sean McMahon & The Moonmen come to mind straight away.
Now we have another gem.
Tracy McNeil's Thieves (SlipRail Records), is her fourth studio release and it is replete with personal, mature and engrossing songs. It comes after memorable highs in 2015 where she toured solo in Canada, supported talented L.A. rock band Dawes and played with her excellent band The Good Life at AmericanaFest in Nashville TN. All of these events, however, were over-shadowed by the loss of her father, musician Wayne ‘Mac’ McNeil and the album is dedicated to him. The tragedy has led to some cathartic and brilliant writing.
McNeil wrote all ten songs on Thieves which were penned across three countries and McNeil & The GoodLife combine seamlessly on these tracks.
The GoodLife are McNeil (vocals, acoustic guitar), Dan Parsons (lead guitars, pedal steel, backing vocals), Luke Sinclair (rhythm and harmony guitars, backing vocals), Bree Hartley (drums, backing vocals, additional percussion) and Trent McKenzie (bass guitar).
The opening track is remarkably good - the gentle and reflective 'The Valley' is an ode to writer's block, when you're lacking a spark and looking for inspiration. It was recorded live in just a few takes and has McNeil in fine voice, Suzannah Espie's backing vocals and Parson's impressive guitar work. 'Middle of The Night' is gritty alt. country and is another well-crafted song ('so we burned these wheels right through, like there was nothing else we'd ever want to do'). The single 'Paradise' is a catchy Fleetwood Mac/L.A. rock track about the space between strangers and is eminently likable.
'Blueprint' was conceived in a hotel room in L.A. and has a beautiful dream-like quality with McNeil never singing better. 'Wait on You' has nice reverb guitar which propels this soul groove (particularly in the refrain) - there's nothing to excess here - everything is just right.
The title track is an absolute highlight - it's quiet but with immense strength. The guitar interplay between Parsons and Sinclair is gripping and the rhythm section of Hartley and McKenzie underlay it all with grace. I could spend hours just listening to that song over and over. A contender for Australian song of the year.
The pace quickens for 'White Rose' which was recorded in two parts - the first was layered in the studio while the outro section was recorded in Shane O'Mara's living room (he provides a delightful guitar solo, reminiscence of the feel of Derek Trucks).
The closing 'Finer Side' has more twang grunt with Sinclair and Parsons sharing vocals, it's a celebration and provides an appropriately aloha to a beautiful record that has me in its vice-like grip.
Co-produced by Tracy McNeil & The GoodLife with O’Mara, recorded and mixed by O'Mara at Yikesville Studio Yarraville and mastered by Ross Cockle at Sing Sing Studios.
Below: McNeill & The GoodLife at Americanafest 2015 - photo Jim Jacob