Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Nov-Dec Contents Rhythms 17
in these dumbed down days of twittery tweets, twisted
syntax and tiresome acronyms, the art of the lyricist
seems to be in terminal decline.
The great songwriters of yesteryear – masters of rhyme
such as George & Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin
and Harold Arlen – had the capacity to paint vivid pictures
in a single verse, to speak volumes in a few words.
Back in the ‘60s, your correspondent’s formative decade,
the literary musings produced by the incomparable likes of
Dylan, Leonard and Joni rained like manna from heaven.
In these less aesthetic times, His Bobness seems content to
croon ditties from the American songbook, Cohen has gone
to meet the great songsmith in the sky and the majestic
Mitchell has sadly succumbed to ill health.
Perhaps I’m being a tad harsh, but most lyrics served up in
modern pop and rock songs seem to me to be ponderous,
predictable and lacking meaningful narratives. What passes
for craftsmanship in the overcrowded singer-songwriters’
field of today’s music world tends to be simplistic,
superficial and self-centred. It’s really only in the realm
of roots music, and veteran troubadours (think Richard
Thompson, Randy Newman and Loudon Wainwright),
that the kind of quality and depth that emanated from the
above-named legends still exists.
Australian lyricists worthy to be considered for the
pantheon include Eric Bogle, Shane Howard, Paul Kelly,
Nick Cave and Jeff Lang. Although he’s barely known
outside of Melbourne, where he’s resident bard at the
popular community radio station 3RRR, I would also add
Ian Bland’s name to the list.
Bland (pictured in John S. Wright’s photo) is a storyteller
in the grand tradition of Aussie yarn spinners, who crafts
old-school rhyming verses that offer poetic and insightful
perspectives on rural and urban life. On three excellent
albums he has delivered 30-plus top-notch songs earthed in
country and folk styling.
The Melburnian’s evocative 2007 debut, Drifter, eloquently
covered the vicissitudes of city and country living, from the
grim realities of modern-day farming to small businesses
battling Big Corpa. The epic title track bears a narrative
worthy of comparison to Banjo Paterson or Henry Lawson.
Bland’s sophomore release, 2012’s Angel In Reverse,
contains a song titled ‘The Hour Before Dawn’ that merits
comparison with Bogle’s mighty World War I anthems
‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘No Man’s Land’.
The opening lines of his waltz-time ballad set the scene
succinctly: “Adventure we thought when we answered the
drum/ not the journey to hell shortly to come.” Later lines
like, “Both the living and dead share the mud of this trench/
no words can be penned for the horror and stench” are even
The hypnotic sign-off track does not stand in isolation.
The majority of the preceding 11 tracks are equally
evocative. In an 18-verse folk-rocker, ‘Jesus Of Hollywood’,
Bland parodies the glibness of the US movie world with a
trenchancy that would curl Loudon Wainwright’s toes. “The
studio heads, like the wise men of old/ Said: “We think this
boy is worth a look”/ There’s sex and corruption/ And they
loved the violent ending/ Cost nothing for the rights to the
Bland’s murder ballads ‘Jimmy O’Hare’ and ‘The Man They
Couldn’t Hang’ would have been shoo-ins for Nick Cave’s
1996 Murder Ballads album.
While chronicling exile and changing times from
contemporary and historical Australia, Bland’s latest album,
Everything And nothing, underlines the writer’s unerring
ability to set the scene in opening verses. Take the title
track: “Sure I remember you – you used to work at the mill
down by the station/ Yeah, I heard they closed it down –
how’d they put it – rationalisation.”
The bard of Triple R is confident enough to echo Dylan via
his own words in a song whose title, A Belated Reflection
On ‘I Pity The Poor Immigrant’ Fifty Years After The Act,
presages its content. Bland’s intro is worthy of His Bobness
circa 1962: “When neighbours turn against neighbours/
Friends disappear without trace/ Your only crime is the god
you serve/ Your name, your gender, your race...”
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