A warm and intimate record which should delight The Paper Kites fanbase.
The Paper Kites last album ‘Roses’ (2021), their fifth if you consider the third and fourth records separately, was a record of collaborations with guest vocalists such as Aoife O’Donovan. Nadia Reid, Julia Stone and Geena Allen Bruce. The album did reasonably well commercially and the band had a successful tour of the UK and Europe in the winter of 2022/23.
For their latest offering, The Paper Kites took off to an old mining town, Campbells Creek, around 140km north of their home city of Melbourne and set up shop in an old hotel/ equipment supply store in July 2022 (winter in the Southern hemisphere) with its adjacent vintage studio. In addition to recording during the week, the band played live at the Roadhouse on Friday and Saturday nights previewing the songs for an audience of locals and anyone else who happened to stop by.
The Paper Kites are Sam Bentley (lead vocal, guitars, harmonica, mandolin, principal songwriter), Christina Lacy (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals), David Powys (guitars, banjo, backing vocals), Sam Rasmussen (bass) and Josh Bentley (drums). For the recording and shows ‘At The Roadhouse’ the band was supplemented by Hannah Cameron (keyboards, percussion, backing vocals), Chris Panousakis (guitars, percussion, backing vocals) and Matt Dixon (pedal steel).
‘At The Roadhouse’ is a multi-media project. In addition to the 16 track, 79-minute album, individual performance videos have been produced for each song (so far just on YouTube) and the release is accompanied by a book compiled by the band based which takes fans inside the roadhouse with photographs from Jake Simpkin, Nick McKinlay and Dara Munnis, alongside song lyrics and selected poems.
In many ways the videos of the songs are a better route into the music than listening to the record itself. They show the Roadhouse setting with the band settled, mainly sitting, on a stage almost level with the audience. Lights are low, there are candles on the tables and the warm, intimate setting, out of the Victorian winter is reflected in the faces of the audience members and the languid, swelling music in which Dixon’s pedal steel is a key feature.
Sam Bentley’s vocals switch between breathy and emotional which fits nicely with the mood created by the visuals and the instrumental backing. The songs themselves tend to blend into one another with openers ‘Midnight Moon’ and ‘Till The Flame Turns Blue’ highlighting Woods’ pedal steel. ‘Black & Thunder’ maintains a similar slow pace but with electric piano slightly fuzzy guitar evokes early Steely Dan. ‘Rolling On Easy’ and ‘Hurts So Good‘ feature some nice banjo from Powys and the harmonies on ‘Burn The Night Away’ are sweet. Then ‘Julie’s Stolen Car’ takes a surprise rocking jump out of the speakers and rocks out what I assume would have been the end of the Roadhouse live first set.
‘Maria, It’s Time’ has a country pop feel with a slow jangly guitar. Then after ‘Green Valleys‘, which has a nice touch of harmonica, the piano takes us into ‘The Sweet Sound Of You’ in which the band also bring up the bass apiece before Wood soars into a pedal steel break. ‘Pocketful Of Rain’ has more of a folk vibe with an acoustic guitar-picked intro and a song structure referencing Ryan Adams’ solo acoustic work. The record finishes with another up-tempo tune – ‘Darkness At My Door’ – which is a folk-rocker with an anthemic chorus that works as a set closer.
‘At The Roadhouse’ is a long record of largely similar-sounding songs differentiated more by the choice of instrumentation and, as a record, doesn’t really keep the listener’s attention. As a gig in the context of the Roadhouse setting, based on the tracks available with video, it works pretty well and might be a more attractive option as a DVD/Blu-Ray. The availability of the book as part of the package suggests they are all part of a package directed at their existing fan base who I suspect will love it to bits.