‘A wonderfully cohesive collection.’
Review by Steve Hoy
Don Walker – Hully Gully (MGM)
It’s the humour that hits first. Just after the lowdown twang of Roy Payne’s baritone guitar sets the sleazy and mean tone on title-track opener ‘Hully Gully,’ the gallows wit follows: “They try to tell you dreams come true they lie until you’re black and blue,“ and a sort of grimy, rockabilly blues dance tune plays through its wry detail. You could describe the sound of this album as that of a tough, melodic, rootsy, guitar driven combo focused on the presentation and performance of the song. Of course that’d reduce it to another worthy roots offering lost in an ocean of roots worthiness. And it would miss the power of the Suave Fucks, Walker’s delightfully named band, and the power of his songs.
Don Walker observes the characters any of us notice during a relaxed walk or drive but he lingers to imagine their possibilities, the gritty realities formed when the choices made may or may not have been the best available. His lyrics and music straddle the satiric and the heart-worn in equal measure, to find an assured balance to describe the lives of his marginalised or romantically confused characters.
Hully Gully is Walker’s third solo album, if you ignore the two Catfish releases. These records were meticulously arranged and possibly a little too polished. Following Walker’s rejuvenation with the first Tex, Don & Charlie project in 1993, his recorded output took on a sparser, rootsier form.1995’s splendid We’re All Gunna Die and 2006’s Cutting Back showcased expertly composed tunes with more focus on his touring ensemble. Consequently, as this is the longest serving outfit, Hully Gully has the sound of a band having fun and stretching out, without hesitancy or tentative arrangements.
The narrator of ‘Young Girls’ doesn’t actually meet the girl introduced in the opening bars, but the imagined romance drives the lyric nonetheless, carrying the listener along with the SF’s authoritative support. This musical support edges the song’s changes as the narrator imagines the perfect and unreal journey taken from Kings Cross as they “drive up north all day and all night watch the moon rise over the Pacific on our right.” Whether or not he has any chance of convincing the girl to travel any further than his imagination is of no importance; it’s the possibility that matters.
The instrumental outro is testament to the musicality of these players. Hamish Stuart’s drums propel the song’s melancholy with a subtle increase in tempo, while the sinewy pedal steel of Garrett Costigan and Payne’s and Glenn Hanna’s interweaving guitars lock in with Walker’s piano and Michael Vidale’s swinging upright bass. If this were a live setting you can picture the bandleader standing to the side admiring the effortless musicality of his seasoned and sensitive players.
The album unfolds with a sense of connection between songs. This older approach is not the preferred manner of download or streaming but is certainly one where the artist’s intentions create a musical environment for the benefit of the listener. Individual songs stand out but the flow of the collection is equally important. The songs have an organic relationship and arguably a thematic one also. Therefore, ‘On The Beach’s honest declaration of fidelity leads into ‘Angry Women’s not so measured observations.
That it is a wonderfully cohesive collection, belies the sporadic nature of actual recording. Some tunes were recorded several years ago yet Walker’s relaxed approach to assembling albums seems to work on an instinct for knowing when a unified collection has emerged. Some tunes have been part of the SF’s live set for some time, while others such as ‘On The Beach,’ were recorded by Walker’s other band, Cold Chisel, but not included on that band’s No Plans release. ‘Everybody’ was also recorded by Chisel, but Walker’s vocal on Hully Gully has a wry resignation more suited to the acerbic nature of its verses and the “All I want to be, is idiot free and outta here with you,” refrain. (Joe Henry’s mix adds a further dimension in its depth and crispness, where you can almost hear the amp buzz and finger sweat).
Don Walker works in the tradition of heart on the sleeve rock ‘n‘ roll observers such as Ray Davies, Randy Newman or Warren Zevon, artists with an instinctive and practised understanding of the relationship between words and music. However, Walker’s work has a specifically Australian perspective and a nod to pre-rock song forms and sounds. The songs on this record are amongst his finest and this is a continually rewarding collection, unified and confident in its worth.
Disclaimer: Steve Hoy has worked with nearly all the players on this record. However, any kickbacks have been limited to a beer or two from the band’s rider when they come to Melbourne at the end of November. And he’ll probably buy some as well.