Reviewed by Ian McFarlane.
Various Artists – Buried Country 1.5 The Story of Aboriginal Country Music (Festival/Warner)
I’ve sung the praises of Clinton Walker’s book Buried Country elsewhere on this site. I still think it’s a major work, one of the most significant books ever to chronicle Australian music and cultural history. Now the author has revisited the accompanying CD with what’s described as “rebooted as Vers. 1.5 for 2015”.
So Vers. 1.5 is a significant reworking of the original model from 2000. A pull quote (from Rolling Stone) on the back of the new edition describes the 2000 release as “… might be as close as we’ve got… to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music”. And there’s no reason why you can’t view Buried Country 1.5 in the same light.
This is folk music for the ages, a collection of affecting and deep-rooted explorations of the Aboriginal experience. All the main signposts and songlines which follow the engaging narrative of the book are here. Disc One concentrates on the country music side of the equation, while Disc Two shifts the emphasis by presenting folk rock and a more modern rock aesthetic.
On Disc One, the likes of ‘Get Back Into The Shadows’ (Vic Simms), ‘Run Dingo Run’ (Black Allan Barker), ‘Jackson’s Track’ (Lionel Rose), ‘Brisbane Blacks’ (Mop and the Dropouts), ‘Jailanguru Pakarnu’ (Warumpi Band) and ‘Land Where The Crow Flies Backwards’ (Rug Cutters) are quintessential examples of that Aboriginal experience in song. ‘Ghost Gums’ (Auriel Andrew), ‘Woman’s Business’ (Ruby Hunter), ‘Streets Of Tamworth’ (Tracey Lee Gray) and ‘In My Kitchen’ (Tiddas) are such gorgeous and accessible songs that you’d swear they were all massive hit singles. And Disc One ends with the biggest hit of them all, Lionel Rose’s #1 from 1969 ‘I Thank You’.
Disc Two is where it gets really interesting. Alongside the rockier numbers such as ‘Barefoot Kid’ (the Pigram Brothers) and ‘Get Back Up Again’ (Kutcha Edwards), this is folk rock in all its glory, and often minor key folk rock at that. ‘Hurts To Be Me’ (Naomi Pigram), ‘Around Here’ (Thelma Plum), ‘Red Roses’ (Sue Ray), ‘Time’ (Benny Walker) and ‘Stranger In My Country’ (Painted Ladies) are heart wrenching and absolutely spellbinding in their intensity.
Archie Roach’s ‘Big Black Train’ is on par with anything Nick Cave has written in recent years. Hand in hand with ‘Big Black Train’, Dan Sultan’s soulful ‘Old Fitzroy’ and Jimmy Little’s ‘Yorta Yorta Man’ make up a trio of modern day classics that stand tall by any criteria. The most unusual track has to be Peter Brandy’s ‘Long Time Ago’, one spooky mother of a song with spectral bass lines, weeping slide guitar, various percussive and didgeridoo effects and a hazy aura that evokes the very essence of the vast, forbidding landscape of the mystical Red Centre.