Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Jan-Feb Contents NICK CHARLES
THE RIVER FLOWS
BLACK MARKET MUSIC
Okay, the first thing to make perfectly clear is that Melburnian
singer-songwriter, guitarist and Rhythms columnist Nick
Charles is not just a blues musician. Sure, there’s been plenty
of blues amongst his catalogue and his last album, 2012’s Into
The Blues, was a showcase of the music of some of his favourite
blues musicians, but his new, and eighth, solo album, The River
Flows, is far more representative of who Charles is a musician.
“[Into The Blues] was really just to make a bit of a statement,”
Charles admits. “ There is blues on the new album of course,
but I have folk and country influences too, as well as the Great
American Songbook, The Beatles and anyone else who’s
written a great tune. I’m not really a big fan of pigeonholing
anybody. It’s always been about the melody for me, and even
with my blues playing, I’ve generally always gone for blues
tunes that have a melody or a hook line or chorus, that kind of
down-home, rural, sort of nondescript blues. They just appeal
to me as a player.”
That really shines through on The River Flows. Charles’ music
ripples and spins along as gently as a mountain meadow
stream, subtle currents slipping past delighting the ear before
taking you down another sinuous eddy, like cool, sparkling
water splashing over your toes. Even when things ramp up
a little with the steel guitar of Pete Fidler on the rambling
‘Penelope’, it’s still more caressing than careering along, the
momentum always in the guitarist’s consummate finger picking.
Charles’ vocal approach is also all caress – no blues belting here.
Always evocative, his music is replete with melodic elements
drawn, as he suggests, from folk and country, particularly in
the instrumentals – ‘The Bridge’, ‘Watching Billy Play The Blues’,
the aforementioned ‘Penelope’ and his paean to the late, great
Doc Watson, ‘Doc And Rosa Lee’. Always his forte, that acoustic
instrumental prowess positively skips along on his arrangement
of ‘The Victory Rag’, a purely solo strut.
“I try to create all sorts of moods and shades,” Charles admits
of his instrumental approach, “rather than a ‘killer blow’. What I
consider to be the main track on the album is ‘Penelope’, and I suppose I formed the album around that piece.
It’s almost a summary of where I come from, that tune. It’s a long piece (7.14), which is actually quite unusual for
my recordings, and I let it develop as an arrangement over maybe a year and a half, playing it solo. I still play
it solo, but I was always hearing harmonies and more bold arrangements. And the feel of that piece kind of
dictated the way that the rest of the music would go.”
Beginning with a gentle, unhurried melody that seems to recall a gentle ramble through the countryside,
‘Penelope’ goes through a number of modulations, peaking with Fidler’s solo, before a false ending slowly
brings things back to the original motif. While nominally a solo album and, once again, self-produced, alongside
Charles’ longtime offsider Fidler on lap steel and dobro, The River Flows features Louis Gill on electric and
double bass, with Paul Jonas throwing in the odd lush fiddle line.
“It’s the first time I’ve actually used Louis on one of my albums,” Charles explains. “The group’s called The Blue
Strings whenever I used them, but most of my touring, playing and performing is still as a solo artist.”
The River Flows is a good mix of instrumental and vocal music, with Charles including a reading of Dylan’s
‘Buckets Of Rain’ alongside his own ‘Things You Want ’, ‘Three Lines Down’, ‘I Found You’ and ‘Fools Gold’, the
latter co-written with country folk/Americana artist Bill Jackson.
“I’m very much into instrumental music,” Charles explains. “I write a lot more lyrics than I use. The music is
fundamental and if I can write a lyric that fits with my musical thoughts then the song will go that way. But I
certainly write more melodies than lyrics. To be quite honest, I think there’s a surplus of lyricists around,” he
Then it’s back to the blues. “I try to make sense, follow a logic and hope there’s a bit of a story of sorts to tell.
‘Three Lines Deep’ is a phrase that’s been in my head for a while and actually, when I came up with it, I was
surprised I hadn’t noticed that anyone else had picked up on it. It’s really about how simple yet sort of how
profound the blues can be – straight to the point without too much elaboration. Three lines, 12 bars sums up a
lot of human emotions really.” Michael Smith
Nick Charles plays the Thredbo Blues Festival, Goulburn Blues Festival and Port Fairy Folk Festival
full tour dates in the gig guide on p58.
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