Extremely, Naturally, Totally Biased Fan Review: The Happiness Tree – Darren Colston

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When Michael Bryers finally released his album last year after the long wait, country music fans all over Australia sighed with relief and kissed the country road that it had travelled along. An artist who is not dissimilar to Michael, Darren Colston, falls into that category this year.
From the slightly changed title of this review, I am not going to lie….Darren is one of my absolute favourites and it is going to fall into a deep bias. However, I only review the best, and as far as I am concerned, Darren is one of our best and like Michael, very underrated.
My favourite country music songs are not in your face songs. Yes, they may have some political content, yes, they do tell a story – generally from history – but they are delivered in such a way that you don’t feel threatened or preached to, and you can quietly respect the intelligence of the message that is being delivered.
I also love artists who have unique voices. I love it when you can hear a song out of the blue (pun intended) and know that it is Anne Kirkpatrick, Michael Bryers, Allan Caswell, Lachlan Bryan, Aleyce Simmonds, Amber Lawrence, Luke O’Shea, Allison Forbes, Mike Carr, Reba, Trisha, George, Randy, Alan, or Darren and a select group of others.
I have been a long time Darren fan. I have heard him compared to John Denver and I understand that. While Darren’s songs are unmistakably Australian, a lot of his writings have the feel of Denver songs. They are about the country that he was born in: the history, the environment, the rivers, land, and its people. There are love songs and gentle messages. Their voices are distinctive, subtle and calming: even when delivering a strong statement. Denver often said that he never considered himself a country music artist. He called himself a Western artist, as he wrote about the West. Folkies claimed him as theirs, Country Music fans claimed him as theirs, Darren follows that tradition. These days it is just classified as good music.
On this offering, we have been given a feast of Darren songs, with only one song, Neil Young’s Comes a Time, not an original Colston song. Part Two is “warts and all” – just Darren and his guitar. The second cd in this collection is virtually a greatest hits of Colston Songs – singles and most requested songs.
CD1
The Happiness Tree:
Part One:
Happiness Tree: Has some similarities in the melody to Mary-Chapin Carpenter, and in many ways, Darren is a male version of Mare. (You can’t really get a bigger compliment from me than that). It is an upbeat, happy song and a good way to start an album.
Drinkin’ through memories of you: An interesting take on lost love. Beautiful song, Darren and a new favourite.
Leave me there: Darren released this at the end of last year, and I was lucky enough to get a preview of it. Reminiscent of the Russell Crowe movie, “The Water Diviner” and apt in a year of commemorative war songs, but a little different. This is one of the more thought provoking songs of the year.
She’s not you: Similar songs have been written, but this has a bit of a twist.
I wish I were him: Lyrically, very different. The base line is familiar but the words are very interesting. You could take this song a couple of ways. The Him in this song could be the bloke upstairs or the guy that got the girl. You can hear it both ways, depending on your mood.

Part Two:
(Darren and his guitar)
Come by Chance: Title track to one of Darren’s previous albums. This is the raw version. With the original version, I dance around the flat and/or doing my cleaning to. It is very catchy. (kudos to Banjo Patterson)
Riverbend Jack: (from the Come by Chance album)- Daz at his John Denver best.
Moving the Mullock: (from the Come by Chance album) – My Dad’s favourite Darren Colston song. I think that he would like this version even better.
On the bend by the Willow: (from the self-titled album) – One of my favourite Darren songs. A river, like a road is often a metaphor for life. This song is about life.
Sweet Sad Annie: This is a new song to me. I can’t find it on any previous albums, or remember Darren singing this LIVE. It is a lovely sad song, what Darren does best.
Comes A Time: The well known Neil Young song and the only unoriginal track on this collection. The song fits Darren’s voice and visa versa.
CD2
Bonus Disc: Back Tracks: (singles and most requested songs – sort of a greatest hits collection)
This is good for those of you who are discovering Darren for the first time and good for old fans like me whose old albums are plum worn out.
Fly Away (self titled album): Not the old hymn, but a Darren Colston original and the biggest singalong song at his gigs. Probably one of his most “country” songs and definitely one of my favourites.
The Boundary Rider (Come by Chance): Darren was nominated for a Golden Guitar for this song. One of his “character” songs and probably one of his best known songs. Enjoy the ride.
Come By Chance (Come by Chance): Kaz’s dance version! I challenge you to try and not get up and groove around to this….or at least tap your toes. The lyrics hold a bit of everything. I am often too busy dancing to sit down and listen to the words, but it does have a deeper meaning.
I am the sun (Bare Bones): I often get the feeling that this is one of Darren’s favourites of his songs. As I said earlier, he is like John Denver in the things that he writes about….this is a great example of the similarity in John’s later songs.
Will you stay (with Victoria Baillie) ( Self titled album): I love this song. It is one of the few official video clips available. I have put it on the blog before, but it is worth lots of looks and listens. Darren has sung with both Baillie girls before….they blend well together.
Watch it rise (self titled album): Another catchy tune with lyrics that have a more serious message. Country townsfolk will understand this better than anybody.
On the bend by the Willow (self titled album): Original version of the previously mentioned song. You will have this song on your brain all day. It has that magic.
Good Man (Bare Bones): Darren’s song about his Dad. A heartfelt and honest song.
Riverbend Jack (Come by Chance): See previous review.
Stay a little longer (Bare Bones): I get the feeling that this is one of Darren’s favourite songs of his, too.
Letters from the Frontline (Self Titled Album): Writing songs about soldiers is not a new thing for Darren. It is not a bravado song, it is a very honest look at the other side of a soldier…contains some of my favourite lyrics from any song that I have ever heard. Kris Kristofferson would be very proud.
Darren Colston is one of the most thoughtful songwriters that I know. The man himself is very much like that too. He generally lets his songs do the talking, but he can talk on lots of subjects, from sport to politics to children and he has a dry sense of humour that comes through in lots of songs. He is very much aware of the people and places around him and that comes through too. His unique voice is haunting at times, comforting at others and coupled with his guitar mate, Raphael, he always delivers.
He is joined on this album my some very cool musicians and singers, and Herm Kovac (you can tell that they have worked together before and there is a beautiful connection there with Harmony James as well, amongst others) puts the final polish on this truly enjoyable album. (Albums!)
Darren is a perfectionist when it comes to his music.
This collection is pretty close to perfection.
(check out other reviews on A Country Hattitude)

Totally Biased Fan Review: Bennett Bowtell Urquhart – Kevin Bennett, Lyn Bowtell and Felicity Urquhart

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Brother Kevin, Sister Lyn, Sister Felicity, church is in….Hallelujah! These three were born to sing together. They’ve been touring for a while together now, so this was the natural next step. This album is a mixture of their individual hits and a few classics. Together, they make the songs their own.
The soulful, bluesy delivery of this collection make it a kind of religious experience. I can see them in one of those wooden churches in the South singing up a storm as the congregation shouts Hallelujah!, murmurs a few hmmms, hmmms and amens.
There are some interesting selections, like Inanay, the Tiddas song and some obvious ones, like The Flood’s Hello Blue Sky (an amazing version….slowed down to perfection) and I Hear Them All. I love the Emmylou classic, When We’re Gone, long gone and Brand New Truth. Goulburn Valley Woman is a surprisingly uplifting song, considering its subject. The Best Thing is a great song, probably one of my favourites on the album.
The songs generally feature one of the three in the lead and the other two harmonise, with a couple of exceptions.
On Love of Mine, there is an E, which may surprise some…..the only word that I heard that was anything like explicit was “bullshit”. I had to play it three times before I picked that up….and it is used once and in context, so I am not really sure what the fuss is. It is Lyn at her best and a beautiful song.
The country music community in Australia is a pretty close knit family. At Tamworth, you often find people singing on each other’s shows or in the audience listening. The vocal collaboration award at the Golden Guitars often brings together some interesting combinations. I think that next year, these three will feature in that category. In some ways, they are not an obvious choice to sing and play together. The three of them have entirely different voices and styles, but they blend together so well that you would honestly think that they were born to play together.
This is not an in your face album, which is a big chunk of its charm. It is like three friends got together for a singalong and realised that it was much more than that. This is a special album.

It is never clearer than on I’m on your side (oh brother) – church is most definitely in.


Individually, they are three of Australia’s finest. Together, they are magic. Hmmm, Hmmm, Amen, Hallelujah brother and sisters.

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Totally Biased Fan Review: Caught up in the Dreaming – Luke O’Shea

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It is no secret that of all of my favourites, Lukie is in my top 5. The rumour is probably true that if Lukie sang Humpty Dumpty backwards with Alvin and the Chipmunks backing him, I would rate it the greatest song of all time. Well, maybe not quite, but pretty close to the truth.
It is also no secret that I used to go to see Luke when I was one of three in the crowd, with the other two people being the bouncer and the barman. Thankfully, the world got wise and people now hang off the rafters or get sent away because they can’t get a seat.
Golden Guitars help, but there is more to it than that. Luke has a loyal group of stalkers er fans and friends and colleagues who think the world of him. Sooner or later, talent wins out and word spreads and people learn the truth.
Luke O’Shea, with or without his Medicine Wheel is an amazing singer/songwriter, who is admired as much for what he does off stage and off the record as he is for what he does on the stage and on the record.
All of his songs tell a story, all have meaning. Some songs will ruffle feathers, some will make most of us stand up and cheer and believe and fight the good fight. There are no signs of bubblegum songs or bro country about Luke O’Shea.
Just days after he won Golden Guitars last year, including the Male Vocal award, he was arrested with his Dad for fighting the good fight. Luke O’Shea is a man with purpose. This does not mean that he doesn’t have a sense of humour, many of his songs have that humorous edge. At his gigs, he is a cheeky monkey who laughs as much as he delivers a message.
Luke O’Shea has always been the complete package. Many people knew that….even more are receiving delivery of that package in the mail now. Better late than never.
Again, Luke’s Celtic roots are showing….then again, so are mine.
Songs:
Stronger than nicotine: Luke always has a love song on his albums which is not your regular love song. This is the one and he starts with it. The love song is not always between two people, but it generally is a love stronger than nicotine.
Begin & End in Love: Probably one of Luke’s more simple songs. That does not mean that it is any less meaningful, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a message, it is just that it is not as complex as some others.
My Country’s My King: Luke is very well known for his songs about war and waste. This song could have many meanings, could span many generations. For the Celtic in most of us, we don’t always have a huge respect for authority figures. History has scarred us. This song will mean different things to different people.
For the love of me: The power of love and what you do for the one that you love, whatever the cost.

Caught up in the Dreaming: Title track. Luke has spent a lot of time in the outback of Australia. He has travelled many roads, within and literally. This country of ours has many depths, many stories. It is hard not to get caught up in the Dreaming when you venture it. The earth tells its own story. Luke is just retelling it his way.
The Old Man’s Shed: Luke often tries out songs on his fans. This was one of them. Reminiscent of a certain song about a bottom drawer, and others. Many people will relate to this song. We all have an uncle or a grandfather or a Dad who has a shed like this. It has a sad ending, but a fitting one.
One Last Prayer: Second chances, rays of hope. No matter what you have done, you may be able to turn it around. Could be a death row song, could be just somebody who has given up and needs to find light at the end of a tunnel. Makes you think. That’s what Luke does.
Like Snow: Earlier today, I reviewed Dana Hassall’s album. This song features on her album too, they wrote the song together. Just as beautiful on both albums.
Catch You: co-written and sung with Amber Lawrence. Both Luke and Amber won overdue Golden Guitars last year for Male and Female vocalists and conducted a tour together. This duet was a natural progression. They both help out with Defence Care and have had a lot to do with the Black Dog charity. They have done a lot of work together and this was inevitable. A wonderful song for a good cause.
Smooth Sailing: Interestingly, Luke is not going inland for this one, he is instead heading for the high seas….calm after the storm in this case. Really, it is just about life.
Time: I think that this will be a crowd favourite. The tune is a bit different for Luke and it may even be one that people will get up and dance to, definitely one for the air guitar. It is more about moments in time than forever, strangely uplifting and a downer at the same time.
Everyday Eyes: A beautiful love song. Absolutely lovely. A little sad at the end, but that is Luke.
Easy to Me: I had to play this song a few times, because I got lost in it. It is a song that you can drift away to….that comes so easy to me when I am listening to Luke’s songs.
The Open Road: Funny, but from the first few bars, I had a picture of a dirt road in front of me that had a sky that kept changing colours and then the road changed from dirt to mud to tar to dirt again. The rivers, trees and rocks emerged and the mountains and streams and a band standing in the middle of it. Easy enough to imagine a physical scene and just as easy imagining a road that takes you through life too.
Lukie has done it again….but then again, he had me from hello