The Gift of Music #2 ~ Russell Morris

You will remember that recently I had my 60th birthday, and suggested that if guests wanted to give me a present, then music would be wonderful. Then I decided to share that gift with you, letting you know about the birthday album that  have been listening to.

Denise couldn’t make it to the Party, but she did send me love, and some CDs. 2 of them were the recent Russell Morris albums, Sharkmouth and Van Diemen’s Land.

If you are an Aussie of a Certain Age, the name Russell Morris will probably make you think The real thing. Well, his latest work is so far away from this. Both are wonderful blues music. I don’t think I am a blues fan, but then I wonder. A couple of years ago I went to the Blues Festival in Echuca and loved it. I wanted Dave Hogan’s Meltdown to play at my Party, because their blues music is fantastic to dance to. And then Denise sent me these albums. Maybe I do enjoy blues after all. 🙂

Both albums are rooted in Australian history, but you don’t need to know that history to enjoy it. The music is strong and gutsy ~ and the album notes in both fill in knowledge gaps.

At the beginning of the notes for Sharkmouth, Morris says that he had always wanted to write music about Australian characters, stories and legends, such as the boxer Les Darcy, the racehorse Phar Lap and the thug Squizzy Taylor. The “characters, events and moods” from the album come from 1919 to the 40’s, with the exception of Mr Eternity who was writing his chalk message, “Eternity”, on the footpaths in the 50s and 60s.

The Great Depression hit Australia very hard. One in three adults were out of work. “Blackdog Blues” is a general feel song about that time, and its intention “is to set up the mood for the album, one of listlessness, out of work, boredom.”

I did a little research about the album and found that it won the ARIA for ‘Best Blues and Roots Album’. Apparently its success took Morris by surprise. He originally only made 500 copies to sell at gigs. Late last year it had sold 60,000, making it nearly platinum! This is an interesting interview with Morris, where he talks about that success as well as his music.

The second album, Van Diemen’s Land, is my favourite of the two and takes a broader view of Australian history. (Van Diemen’s Land was the original white name for Tasmania.) There are songs about the paddle steamers on the Murray River, with the interesting aspect of what indigenous people may have felt, the shipwreck of the Loch Ard, Breaker Morant and the Eureka Stockade. He sings about the misery of prisoners sent to Van Diemen’s Land, the misery of the Islanders who were taken from Pacific Islands to work on the sugar cane, and the 1894 Shearers’ strike.

In this clip Morris talks about “Sandakan”, a forced march in WW2. Morris’s father was one of five men who escaped and were on the run for six months.

And a final clip, “The Bridge” from Sharkmouth. Whatever you think of the music, it is worth watching for the footage of the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

So I give Denise a big hug, and thanks for showing me that I may well be a Blues fan after all!