The man who ultimately defined the very idea of the folk/protest
singer/songwriter (Dylan) had such a hard time initially expanding his
range, musically end thematically, it's strange that he should have
inspired so many disciples. None was ever more slavish than Australian
Kev Carmody, and now he too wrestles with maturity.
Paul Kelly, with whom Carmody collaborates on this, his third album,
started out in a similar fashion himself, but even then, he was more
interested in individual lives than sloganeering. Carmody, on the other
hand, for all his rigorous humanitarianism, has always actually seemed so
much less compassionate. As a Queensland Aboriginal, it's only natural
that Carmody would be angry, but his shortcoming as an artist was that if
there were ever ayg actual people in his politics, they were stereotypes,
his songs more akin to sermons (one of his best was, in fact, called "Thou
Shalt Not Steal"). This is why the response to fellow Aboriginal
Singer/songwriter Archie Roach has been so much broader, because Roach
puts human faces to Aboriginal suffering. As a result, his politics,
implicit, are not compromised, but so much more powerful. Kev Carmody
inverted the best advice any writer, including Roach, ever heeded - 'use
ordinary words to sag extraordinary things' - and used jargon to say
predictable things. His celebrated 1989 debut album Pillars of Society
may have reached no white audience other than the right-on politically
correct. This is not to say that crossing over, so to speak, should be Carmody’s
sole objective either, but surely, not even he could be content
merely preaching to the converted.
Bloodlines indeed suggests that this is the case. Carmody has made a
concerted attempt to break the mold. Bloodlines is an adventurous album that
is quite clearly trying to reach out and touch more people. Certainly, it's not as
cohesive as Pillars of Society, but that's because it's refused to accept such a
narrow precept, and even while it’s quite fragmented, there are more likeable
kinks and crevices. Much of it, in fact, is barely half-baked, but elsewhere it
rises to sublime heights.
Carmody's roots are still strongly in evidence on Bloodlines. Yet
where tracks like "Asbestosis" and "South of the Freeway" are disposable,
others like "Rider lnThe Rain,” “Sorry Business," "BDP" and "On the Wire"
are superior. I’m not exactly sure what “Rider in the Rain" is about, but
still it's spooky. Both "Asbestosis" and "EDP" have a groovy hard
reggae-funk feel, complete with additional mandolin and didgeridoo
instrumentation, but equally suffer for Midnight Oil-like pedagogery. The
gospelesque backing vocals of the Tiddas elevate both “Sorry Business”
and “On the Wire." "From Little Things Big Things Grow," which closes the
album, is a straight re-run of Paul Kelly's version.
Opening the album, "Freedom," is a stab at a world music anthem that almost
gets there, but it’s the dub-like title-track(s), the ominous instrumental miniature
"Mother Earth" and two 'chamber raps', "Messenger" and "Darkside," even
despite some clumsy associations, that leave the most lasting impression. Any
Carmody fans crying 'Judas' as Dylan's did in 1965 will only be missing out.