April 17th (April 18th in Australia) sees the world wide release of New York outfit Swear & Shake's debut long player "Maple Ridge". This is an album I have long been looking forward to, ever since I chronicled the band in my 2011 T.N.B.N.O.T feature. At that time, I had discovered S & S through their self titled E.P. which quickly rose to the top of my playlist and has remained there ever since. Back then, I felt their music was a kind of nod to the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Arlo Guthrie, Henry Rollins and The Decemberists. Make no mistake though - Swear and Shake have a passionately individual and original sound that should be seen and experienced on it's own terms.
"Maple Ridge" represents and important milestone for the band. Funded partially through Kickstarter - of which I was a proud contributor - the album show cases Swear & Shake in all their indie cred glory. And it is a sumptuous album, full of charm and character, brass and banjos, accordions and acoustics. Recording as they did at the titular Maple Ridge barn in upstate New York, the overall sound has a beauty that is warm and real - untainted by the studio process. The production team have experimented, drawing on the natural acoustics within the barn and adding them to the aural tableaux which makes the listening experience just so damned interesting. The core musicians along with their guest artists are at the top of their game too, bringing each track an individual style - no two tracks are quite the same but, as a collection, they are synchronous - they belong together. And of course, the vocal duets between Kari and Adam are raucous at times, intimate at others and honest always. They have fun and they have heart. It is a jewel of a recording.
As I write this, I've been away in rural South Australia on a locum placement and I've had the good fortune (as a Kickstarter backer) to have an advance listen. It has become my soundtrack to my journey on the back roads and highways of the Outback, a perfect accompaniment to the wide open spaces of the rural heartland, the wheat fields and the sheep paddocks and the towering grain silos that are really, the only evidence that anyone is out here. "Maple Ridge" really does suit any place though or any mood. Losing yourself in it is sublime.
If you are a connosieur of an earthy sound, an indie folk rockabilly, this is an album that you must treat yourself to. Do yourself a big favor. "Maple Ridge" is available for purchase directly from the band's website in either digital download or physical CD.
I'm away from home right now, working in rural South Australia for a week...which means that, for the rarest of times, I have complete control over the television remote. It's a delicious thing but that's not the reason I'm talking here and now.
I've just finished watching this week's episode of "Australian Story" on our national public broadcaster, the ABC. The episode featured Scott Neeson, a former, major movie mogul in Hollywood (and Adelaide native), who gave up a lucrative career amongst the big players in the movie world, to work among the desperately poor children of Phnom Phen, Cambodia.
These children, many of whom are orphaned, eck out a meagre existence on the rubbish dumps of Phnom Phen, trawling through the putrid rubbish to find scraps of metal and recyclable plastic which they can sell. In many cases, they can hope to earn as much as 25 cents per day. They live on these rubbish dumps, risking the worst infections you can imagine, lethal illness and disease just so they can survive. They derive their dietary needs from the dump - often retrieving food scraps and liquids that have been discarded from the City's restaurants for sustenance.
There are certain tipping points in life that shake you out of your complacency, they make you think, they make you feel.
As Scott Neeson was documenting what he saw on these rubbish dumps, he described these children picking through the most putrid of rubbish - general refuse, feces, restaurant waste. But then he mentioned hospital waste - sharps, disposable medical equipment, amputated limbs, aborted foetuses. For me, that was the tipping point.
I mean, it's terrible enough that children as young as three are forced to live in such unimaginable conditions, but, for me, the image of a child turning over amputated limbs or even an aborted foetus - it shook me. It really shook me.
Scott Neeson has set up Cambodian Children's Fund - a charitable organization whose mission it is to get these children off the pile, to give them health care, education, good food and the chance for a better life. For a man who forged his career in a far different reality, where he dealt with major Hollywood stars who had a shit fit if the thread count on the seats in the private jet was inadequate, I found his left turn journey remarkable and courageous.
He has given hope to these children, access to health care and learning and mist important of all, a chance to forge their own positive future.
So much of my life lately has been occupied by worries and concerns that, in the scheme of things, are miniscule, pathetic and petty.
I'm greatful that I got to see this documentary. It's given me some perspective. And I've opened my wallet to offer up a small monthly donation. I'd like to do more and I see from the site, there may be an opportunity to do more. I'm giving serious thought to it.