Fascinating Australian debut from duo with twelve dark historic stories.
Any country’s history, often tragic and bleak, has often been the inspiration for great music and this is a really interesting debut from Australian duo Nigel Wearne and Luke Watt, under the moniker Above The Bit.
‘Above the bit’ apparently refers to a horse’s head not in proper contact with the rider’s bit, hence becoming uncontrollable. So now we know. This album has been released to coincide with Australia’s National Reconciliation Week – a chance for all Australians to learn about their shared histories, cultures and achievements.
In the winter of 2017, the duo were artists in residence at Bundanon – a unique national arts organisation in New South Wales and was the home of painter Arthur Boyd and is now Australia’s largest artist in residence programme.
The duo are joined by a range of quality musicians including Danny McKenna on drums; Steve Hadley on double bass; Mandy Connell and album producer Matt Walker on backing vocals; and Corinn Strating on wood flute and whistle.
So this album is crammed full of true tales of mutiny and civil disobedience in Australian history. It features songs about women on the Australian Goldfields, First Nations warriors, US Military mutinies on Australian soil, The New Australia Movement in 1892 and the Batavia Mutiny.
Our ignorance around some of this history means our instant link to some of these songs is a little blurred – but there are some great songs here anyway. Track 2 ‘Walyer’, which is the lead single, has a lovely dual vocal interplay between Wearne and Connell and some fine guitar work complementing this vocal dexterity. It’s about an Aboriginal woman and warrior and apparently history has written her out of existence – and the duo feel these songs speak to that mistake.
‘Arthur Kelso’s Lament’ is a gorgeous soft shuffle with some fine piano and acoustic guitar work and ‘Needle and the Fray’ has an uplifting feel, with some great banjo playing and a feel that reminds one of the best of Fairport Convention. ‘The Ballad of Sarah Skinner’ is an acoustic gem, telling the story of poor Sarah and her travelling travails.
Some of the songs are a little too earnest to these ears and some do outstay their welcome – but overall this is a fine and interesting album, shining a much needed light onto some of Australia’s darker past and the musicianship is outstanding.