Debut album from Australian Americana duo The Winnie Blues features capable harmonies and intense songwriting.
Rom-com screenwriters, take note! Scoring a point for the inexorable hand of fate, Australian expats Alice Beatty (writer, vocalist) and Cameron Potts (writer, vocalist, guitarist) met in 2016 at a Ruby Boots show at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. Then they ran into each other again eight months later at Mickey’s Tavern in Nashville, where they had both relocated separately – to the same neighbourhood. They started writing songs together in 2018, becoming part of the East Nashville music scene. Oh, and they got married in 2020!
The name Winnie Blues is a colloquial name for Winfield Blues, Australian cigarettes that were popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s and before the new laws went into effect, famous for their blue and white packaging.
There is a lot to like on this country-pop debut, where Beatty and Potts are still working out a signature style. Potts played guitar and sang with Australian indie roots rock band Dead Letter Chorus for over a decade. Potts’ and Beatty’s lyrics are heartfelt but happily devoid of country cliches. Their voices meld beautifully together without stretching out of their comfort zone, especially on the gorgeous ‘Lonely Love.’ Although part of a long musical tradition of male-female Americana duos, they don’t really bring anyone from the classic Americana canon to mind. If anything, their sound is frequently a dead ringer for Lady A, with a slightly different accent.
With a few arrangement tweaks most of the songs could easily be turned into ’70s country-tinged, Jackson Browne-Linda Ronstadt style rock. The softer material (‘Somebody Else Will Have to Love You Now’) would still fare well with only an acoustic guitar. The Springsteen-like ‘Annandale’ tackles regret over leaving a small hometown (and hometown sweetheart) and the gentrification encountered on returning.
According to Beatty, she and Potts told producer Nick Bullock “we wanted a record that sounded like ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’- Olivia Newton-John meets anything by Nick Cave, and Bullock took it from there.” The Nick Cave flair is most evident on the dark, moody duet ‘If I Could Be Your Lover.’
The folky ‘Tennessee Rain’ is about the Aussies’ first experience of the region’s dramatic summer storms and accompanying tornado warning sirens. Potts wrote the infectious hook in Nashville before he met up with Beatty again.
‘Coming Home to You’ at first seems to be about a frustrating personal relationship but soon reveals its social commentary about equal pay and rights for women. Beatty wrote the feminist anthem after being frustrated at how dismissively she was treated in meetings by male producers and others in the southern American music community.
‘Half Wide Awake, But Dreaming’ is a unique, captivating album, documenting two young Australian newcomers’ views of Tennessee’s landscape, culture, and musical heritage, as well as their own personal relationships, struggles, and inner geography.