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Gary Shearston:
ONLY LOVES SURVIVES

Rouseabout RRR3

reviewed by Jim Low

For those who admire the music of Gary Shearston, it's been a long and patient wait for this new swag of recorded songs. His last Aussie Blue recording appeared in 1989. Since then, Gary has become an Anglican minister. He was ordained into the ministry in 1992.

Most of us are pretty much accustomed to these long gaps between recordings. The album previous to Aussie Blue came out in 1975. Having some of Gary's earlier recordings, I consider myself fortunate that I can revisit them during these lulls in recording. So this new CD Only Love Survives, on the fledgling Rouseabout label, is warmly welcomed and definitely no disappointment. It is dedicated to Hugh Murphy, who produced Gary's first English LP Dingo in 1974. Gary's version of Col Porter's I Get a Kick Out of You was on this recording and became an international 'hit single'.

Only Love Survives is a wonderful collection of twelve songs, sensitively produced by Mark and Phil Punch. Mark Punch's guitar playing was heard on the Aussie Blue recording. It's great to hear his playing again embellishing the songs on this new CD.

With Gary's warm and unashamedly Australian voice to the fore, the CD is off and running with Riverina Drover. This song relates, in simple, concise wording and catchy melody, the plight of a farming family who have been forced to leave their property and spend time travelling 'the long paddock'.

As well as singing his own songs, Gary has introduced many to the traditional songs that document Australia's heritage and to the songs of other singers and writers. A number of Australian poets have also had their writings set to music by him. The new CD continues to reflect these interests and abilities.

Riverina 1984 is a poem by a former Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Riverina. Gary has composed a beautiful tune in waltz time to accompany the words and in so doing has created a stirring song of praise.

Back in 1965 Gary recorded the song Streets of Forbes on his CBS album Bolters, Bushrangers and Duffers. On the new CD he revisits the song, but this time with a tune of his own. It fits like a glove and is a standout track on the recording. It's rather appropriate that Gary's new treatment of this song should also have been recorded by John Meredith and Rob Willis for the National Library's Oral History Collection. They recorded him at Deniliquin in NSW in August 1992. He told them how the tune came into his head while travelling on the west coast of Ireland.

Gary has an enthusiastic appreciation for the songs of his friend, the late Don Henderson. Gary has always sung, and still sings, Henderson's songs. The opening song on Gary's first LP Folk Songs and Ballads of Australia, issued by CBS in 1964, is Henderson's Put A Light In Every Country Window. In the song Hey There, Songman, Gary cleverly uses a number of Don Henderson's song titles to help construct the lyric for this song of appreciation to the writer.

Another song on the new CD, a new version of Sing On, Brother John, is about an American blues and gospel singer Brother John Sellers, whom Gary first met in Australia during the 1960's. Sellers was responsible for influencing Gary musically. The B-side to Gary's song Sometime Lovin', which incidentally won a best song award in 1965 and was later recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary, was the Sellers' song Big Boat Up The River. Sing On, Brother John, like the one about Don Henderson, documents part of the 'folk revival' in Australia through Gary's eyes. The song was originally recorded on Gary's second English LP The Greatest Stone On Earth and Other Two-Bob Wonders back in 1975.

The new CD contains many other choice songs including the melancholy Foreign Strand, the haunting Song for Kimio Eto with Gary on piano and the reflective Forty Days.

Congratulations to Rouseabout Records for releasing this CD. The accompanying booklet contains informative biographical notes by Warren Fahey as well as Gary's interesting background notes to the songs.

The CD Only Love Survives reaffirms the important place Gary Shearston holds in the rich tradition of Australian song writing. His songs have that special quality which tells you that they will be around for some time to come. People always remember good songs.

 

- Jim Low