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Shearston Renegade CD cover

Gary Shearston:

Rouseabout RRR53 (2011)

reviewed by Jim Low

Renegade is acclaimed Australian singer-songwriter Gary Shearston’s latest CD. We are treated to sixteen, newly recorded songs.
While listening to the CD a couple of days ago, a kookaburra began a rather raucous, accompanying cackle. I interpreted this enthusiastic response as an authoritative endorsement of the definite, Australian sound of the songs and also of their quality. And with continued listens, I haven’t changed my mind. I can’t speak for the kookaburra, however!
Unique images from the Australian landscape accompany the simple affirmation in the opening song title to live in love.
The songs Truth Is and About the Situation, both set to traditional tunes, provide some interesting background information regarding the path Gary has travelled both musically and in his search for the things he believes and values. His skilfully constructed lyrics recount his side of things. You don’t pass lightly over images of church leaders likened to “sideshow alley spielers”. These songs also help to explain the CD title.
His Name Was Edgar Waters is set to the traditional tune used for the song My Name is Edward Kelly. Gary sang the Kelly song on the LP Bolters, Bushrangers and Duffers which was released in late 1965. The very comprehensive notes for this record were written by Waters. Waters also wrote the album notes for another two of Gary’s early CBS recordings, Australian Broadside and The Springtime It Brings on the Shearing. Gary’s song about his friend is a fitting acknowledgment of the important role Edgar Waters played in the revival of Australian folk music and song.
The song Paint Me A Painting, Painter is another dedication to a friend, the Sydney artist Martin Sharp, It celebrates both the creative process and friendship. The simple detail in the descriptions of Sharp at work reinforce Gary’s admiration for and the value placed on his friend’s creative output. The tune that accompanies this song is a good example of Gary’s ability to compose a strong, memorable melody.
The title song Renegade concludes the CD. If Gary regards himself as a renegade it’s probably because he has always been ready to stand up and say what he believes, despite the consequences. As he declares in the chorus of this song:
“I’m still ready willing and able
To lay all my cards on the table
And call a spade a spade.”
He has already confessed the following in Truth Is:
“I just celebrated, as conscience dictated,
Good causes I could help with a song.”
There is no evidence that I can see in any of the songs, of nostalgia for a world now passed, as one reviewer recently claimed. There are songs that engage and encourage us to value good memories, try and understand the past and possibly learn from the mistakes of the past. These are the “seeds” spoken about in the opening track, the wisdom that comes from a lifetime of experience.
The musical arrangements differ from the more sparsely sounding The Best of All Trades, Gary’s last double CD release. On Renegade you will hear the drumming talents of Gary’s son Luke on every track. Roger Ilott sensitively plays a wide selection of electric and acoustic stringed instruments as well as keyboards. Lee Williams contributes bass guitar on all tracks and tasteful electric and acoustic guitar on three. Penny Davies and Roger Ilott enhance a number of the songs with backing vocals, while their son Jordan plays dobro on a song. The rich sound created by all these capable musicians gives an edge to many of the songs. Thankfully at no time does the instrumentation drown out Gary’s strong and, for many of us, pleasantly familiar vocals.
Let’s hope that Gary Shearston continues to write and sing his songs and “keep tabs on all the wrongs” for many years to come.
Congratulations to Rouseabout Records for their continuing support of fine Australian music.
Jim Low
March 2011