Feathers and Tributes -
Review by Steve Barnes (Artistic Director Fairbridge Festival)
Bernard Carney is a prolific songwriter these days, and his consistency of
quality as a lyricist and tunesmith shine through in this collection.
Thirteen songs span the range from topical protest ("Refuge to a Refugee") through almost-pop love songs ("Always be Loved") to the trademark comedy wordplay of "Little Dot Com". Relaxed, gently swinging fingerstyle guitar, Bernard's warm, intimate vocal burr and David Hyams tasteful production are the unifying elements.
It's hard to pick favourites, but there are a couple of standout songs. The title track is movingly constructed around the memorabilia of an old woman's long life, a beautiful example of the use of the telling detail to create character and atmosphere. "Bottle of Wine" is a clever lampooning of the pretentiousness of wine-speak, compellingly driven by Bernard's distinctive shuffle-feel fingerpicking and some crisply phrased swinging lead guitar lines from Rod Vervest. "Devil's Island", Bernard's Declan Affley-winning song from a few years back about the original penal history of Rottnest Island, has finally made it onto CD with beautiful cello embellishments from Peter Grayling. Superb songs all, executed with immaculate taste and feeling.
David Hyams' production doesn't take too many chances, relying mostly on a crystal-clear twin guitar sound with David taking most of the lead lines on acoustic six-string and dobro. Konrad Park (of the Zydecats) and Fred Kuhnl (Sensitive New Age Cowpersons) provide a beautifully understated rhythm section, and the Grayling cello and Ormonde Waters on low whistle provide some instrumental colour.
The arrangements are spatious where they need to be, and deepen (like the songs) with repeat listening - a fine example of instrumentation serving the material rather than the other way around.
If there's a criticism to be made it's that there could be more emotional
range; "Refuge to Refugee" is a strong, angry song, and could easily stand
a more edgy treatment. But that's not really the Carney style, and this CD is very much true to the polished live stage sound which he has developed over the years. In fact the final track, the cunningly contrived "Here is the Chorus", was recorded live, which is a good solution to the problem of how best to incorporate comedy songs into a CD.
This is a fine collection of material from an accomplished songsmith at the top of his game, and deserves to become a classic of Australian folk.
REVIEW: Bernard Carney: Feathers and Tributes
Jim Low Folk Australia
This new CD from Western Australia's Bernard Carney contains a collection of songs that most singer songwriters could only dream of composing. If that's not enough, each song is enriched by his highly skilled guitar accompaniment and his smooth, warm vocals.
Bernard's song writing ability is marked by integrity and a mature assurance. This affords him the confidence to tackle a diverse subject area including injustice, relationships both strong and fragile, creative expression and various celebrations of life, in a seemingly effortless manner. His songs cover the full spectrum of emotion from the humorous Little Dot Com, with its very clever and cheeky lyric littered with innuendo, to the beautiful and sensitive Over To You, with its sea wreck imagery for lost love and its gentle, comforting wisdom.
The CD contains Bernard's brilliant award winning song Devil's Island, which has previously only been available on cassette. I first heard this song performed live by Bernard back in 1993. Its haunting melody and powerful narrative still packs the same emotive punch. When Bernard sings of injustice, he allows the facts to speak for themselves. A listen to Refuge To A Refugee shows again his ability to impart a message by letting the listener respond to the narrative.
The title song Feathers and Tributes is a delicately beautiful song which raises profound issues of belonging and existence. This subject reappears for us to ponder, in the second last song Reaching For The Light. The CD concludes with a live recording of Here Is The Chorus, a humorous and facetious dissection of the popular song.
I have twice taken this CD on the Sydney to Melbourne drive down the Hume Highway and back. The enjoyment gained from this song collection increases with each new listen. David Hyams' sensitive and intelligent production allows the listener to respond to Bernard's words while, at the same time, appreciating the beautifully appropriate melodies of each song. The songs are enhanced by an excellent group of musicians, including the likes of Peter Grayling and David Hyams himself.
If you add only a couple of CDs to your collection this year, you'd be hard pressed passing this one up.
Jim Low Folk Australia
I must admit to a certain amount of bias in this CD review. Having seen Bernard perform at the Fairbridge Festival I think he is pretty close to the number one folk entertainer in Australia today. The Port Fairy folk festival had no doubts because this year as they named him Artist of the Year.
I will also admit to a certain large tint of green in my review. Bernard's vocal style and delivery - warm, clear and emotive, and his "immaculate ragtime based guitar finger-picking" have been an inspiration to me for over ten years since I first saw him at Woodford. This album highlights both of these excellent skills.
This is a "tribute" to the production on the CD which is superb. While Bernard has been closely linked to Peter Grayling (the Tasmanian connection) for his past outings and Peter makes a wonderful contribution to this CD, it is the excellent guitar playing and arrangements of David Hyams which really enable Bernard and his songs to stand out
Bernard's take on a comedy song is always exceptional. The album features a couple of crowd favourites like "Little Dot Com" and "Wine" - not to mention "Here is the Chorus" whose themes need no explanation. Bernard has a great way of playing with light and shade and in this album he really needs to. He also deals with the issues that are at the heart of Australian political life in 2003. The government's treatment of refugees and the history of the treatment of aborigines and the stolen generation come under consideration.
And Bernard's judgement is severe. His song "Refuge to a Refugee" should be required listening in all Australian schools, not to mention cabinet meetings. It is my favourite song on the CD. It is a "message" song that can be listened to over and over, while the sense of anger is unrestrained, full of excellent poetic lines like: "our hearts become the harder and we harbour bigotry, when we can't give refuge to a refugee".
"Devil's Island" about the treatment of aborigines on Rottnest has long been one of Bernard's concert favourites for very good reason. This is a stunning indictment of the treatment of fellow humanity by the European invaders and goes a long way for us all to begin to understand the need for reconciliation. Not that it is all doom and gloom. Bernard has some lovely travelling songs and has included odes to his loved ones which are not overly cloying or sentimental. Well perhaps a little sentimental but folk audiences LOVE a bit of sentimental don't we!
To top it all off. These songs sound even better LIVE - and our Tassie audiences have a chance to catch Bernard at the Cygnet folk festival in January. So why not grab your copy of Bernard's CD at the festival or if you want to buy it before to sing along you can order it by going to www.bernardcarney.com
- reviewed by Peter Hicks
Jack Humphreys _ Feathers and Tributes
No Time Like the Future
Bernard Carney and Peter Grayling
With the number of progressive singer/songwriters coming to Australia for Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, the National Folk Festival both at Easter time and the Port Fairy Folk Festival music lovers of a variety of types have been treated to Chris Smither, Steve Earle, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Cockburn, Taj Mahal, Kristina Olsen, Vin Garbutt, Richard Thompson, Harry Manx, Jez Lowe and Jackson Brown, as they also perform in most Australian capital cities.
While this is great we should not forget artists of a similar type resident in Australia. One such artist is Bernard Carney. I first heard him on Lucky Ocean’s programmme "The Planet" on Radio National singing the song "Christmas With You", a lovely, catchy song talking of person reunion but at the same time painting the beautiful diversity of the Australian landscape. I liked it so much that I rang up the ABC for further details.
In late 2003, I heard him sing at a Circle of Friends fundraiser in Adelaide, in which, among other things, he helped a young asylum seeker boy sing "Old McDonald Had a Farm". Proceeds from his CD sales that night went to assist the Circle of Friends organisation, who assist asylum seekers locked up in Baxter Detention Centre in Port Augusta, South Australia.
Bernard Carney, a West Australian, is impressive as a socially informed, humorous and entertaining performer, winning the Best Folk Singer Category at the Port Fairy Folk Festival in 2003.
Feathers and Tributes not only includes "Christmas With You" and "Refugee to a Refugee", but some delightfully witty songs such as "Little Dot Com", "Wine" and "Here is the Chorus".
No Time Like The Future has a fine environmental song "The Sugar and the Grain", with the anti-war song "War Song", written at the time of the 1991 Gulf War especially powerful. As well, "Gardens of Death" adds further insight and thought about what has caused the landmines crisis in many parts of the world. Like all good folk singers, songs for his children "Cassandra’s Lullaby", and grandchildren "Man on the Moon" complete this set of very compelling songs.
Bernard Carney is worth catching live at any venue, as he also has that great gift of entertaining banter between songs, similar to British folk artists Roy Bailey and Vin Garbutt.
“WEST” Bernard Carney
REVIEW by Russell
Hannah from the March 2005 edition of “Trad and Now”
Bernard Carney's latest
CD 'West' is a paean of praise to his adopted home of Western Australia. It
is not just about the landscape, but like most good folk albums it is about
people. Their interaction with the land they have made, and call home,
pervades almost all the songs on the recording.
This is Bernard Carney at his best, his subject matter is carefully selected, his songs beautifully crafted and his performance commanding.
The little known importance of Fremantle as a naval and submarine base in WW 2is dramatically sketched in the tragic, 'Barbed Wire Round the Harbour', possibly the best song on the album. It is one of four that tell of the West's relationship with the sea. (The Coming of the Dutch, Monsoonal sailors, and Spindrift and Foam)
The West's characters also feature, with pioneer aviator, Jimmy Woods getting a guernsey with a fine song 'Cowboys of the Air' and of course no WA anthology would be complete without a song about Charles Yelverton O'Connor, the pipeline engineer, and his dramatic story.
'Hard Times Home' pays tribute to Caroline Thomson, and those pioneering women like her. She came to WA with her eleven children and scratched out a living on Rottnest Island during her short and hard life.
This leads to a song about one of the most disgraceful episodes in Australia's History when Rottnest was used to imprison the States Aborigines for breaking 'White Mans' Law", mostly in the North West. The result was as predictable as it was tragic and 'Devils Island' juxtaposes the modern day tourist Mecca with its murky past.
In case you think its all doom and gloom Bernard has used Rottnest to provide a bit of light hearted nostalgia with the rollicking 'Pedalling Home', Stories of the Island', and 'Suitcase of Stars', all songs that lend themselves to a 'damn good sing-a-long,.
I don't know of any other songwriter who has written a song about a mint. Given WA's development has been intrinsically linked with the production of gold and the Perth Mint has been subject to its share of intrigue and scandal over the years, it's not perhaps surprising that Bernard has chosen this topic.
The 'Piece de resistance' for Railway lovers (and I count myself as one) is the 'Midland Railway Workshops', a lively song dedicated to the people who kept the West's Railways on the tracks.
All up this is a very good recording which is what we've come to expect over the years from the award winning Bernard Carney. It is firmly grounded in the folk tradition, the melodies are well crafted and it tells its stories and gets its messages across with subtlety and cleverness. Though often dealing with tragedy it is not at all gloom and doom and the resilience of the human spirit emerges from its lyrics and tunes. I could not find a bad song on it, which is rare for an album of original works. Add it to your collection.
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