Jeff Martin: The Ground Cries Out … for something new?

ground cries out by jeff martin and the 777

Jeff Martin has been wandering since the Tea Party split up in 2005 (see below for reunion news!): a solo album, then the Armada with Wayne Sheehy, and some touring — a lot of touring — with numerous collaborators as the fancy took him. In there was a move to Ireland and now to Australia. Bassist Jay Cortez has become a regular, joining Martin in his latest endeavour, the 777, which is completed by drummer Malcolm Clark.

The 777 album The Ground Cries Out (Riverland/EMI) is a gorgeous product with a gate-fold centre piece in the CD booklet that sets the tone before the stereo has even hit play. If you’re a fan, you won’t be surprised to hear Middle Eastern stylings, Indian stylings, some foot-stomping blues, and that Tea Party-style rock. There are lovers leaving, lovers yearning, meetings in gardens, angels, nefarious shadows, stars, fires and femme fatales … familiar rhythms, familiar scenes, familiar phrases. It’s all feels very … familiar.

Fortunately, Jeff Martin’s brand of familiar can still be engaging: the title track is as catchy an anthem as, say, ‘Line in the Sand’, and one of the standouts, ‘The Cobra’, is given an extra touch of ominous by Cortez’s deep bassline.

Cortez has a big hand here, playing a bunch of instruments and penning ‘The Mekong’, an instrumental with a strong Vietnamese/Thai vibe. It’s one of two instrumentals, the other a more standard guitar piece.

‘Santeria’ and ‘Queen of Spades’ offer irresistible grooves, ‘Riverland Rambler’ shows country underpinnings with honky tonk piano while ‘1916’ uses a railroad beat. Closer ‘The Pyre’ — another standout — ramps up the atmospherics with thumping percussion and buzz guitar chorus.

The album feels to be skating perilously close to finding comfort in the familiar, but in this case, the devil — and the delight — is in the details.

Jeff Martin 777 are on tour. Toe-tapping is assured.

And in other Jeff Martin news: the Tea Party are reforming to play gigs in Canada in July and August, with tour dates out real soon. You can almost hear the fingers snapping as they cross throughout the USA and Oz, can’t you?

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Things to do in Melbourne #3 — Old Melbourne Gaol by night

ned kelly's death mask at old melbourne gaol

Ned Kelly's death mask

There’s a definite air to the Old Melbourne Gaol that’s enhanced by a night visit.

Dating back to the mid 1800s, the then imposing building was erected as a response to the lawlessness of the gold rush, our guide told us. It was built according to the latest of law enforcement principles, which did not include plumbing — one of the most notable elements of the rather confined cells is the absence of a loo. Just the thought of a game of pass the bucket in an overcrowded cell after lights out was enough to induce a vow of sticking to the true and narrow.

Our guide, affecting an Irish accent, took the character of one of the gaol’s hangmen, and led us through the three storeys of utilitarian cellblock to point out the conditions of the day, the art of a good hanging, and some of the more infamous inmates, of whom 135 ended their lives at the end of a noose.

Death masks and info boards fill in some details; those waxen countenances, eyes and mouths shut inside their glass boxes, radiate a certain mystique with their crimes outlined around them.

The gaol’s star attraction is Ned Kelly. The bushranger, who was executed here, has a strong presence, including biographical details, death mask and replica armour, as well as several artifacts including a pistol taken from his last stand at Glenrowan, complete with bullet damage to the grip.

After the candlelit tour, we were set loose, with the lights on, to take photographs and explore the various dioramas and information displays, though the building was still far from bright and retained its sense of loneliness.

While the gaol’s ‘haunted’ status is mentioned in PR material, the tour managed to avoid the topic, and there were no ghost stories nor scary theatrics (though a few customers did manage to spook each other; those little screams did travel well!). The atmosphere of the stones and bars was more than enough to conjure a sense of dread and despair.

Photographic conditions were rather dim, but there are some pix over at Flickr.

Concrete Blonde storm Melbourne’s Palace

bloodletting by concrete blonde

The penultimate gig of their Australian tour, at Melbourne’s Palace theatre last night, found Concrete Blonde in fine form indeed as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of their breakout album, Bloodletting.

Lead singer Johnette Napolitano is clearly relishing performing: she was relaxed and smiling, utterly gleeful as she called support band Melbourne-based Graveyard Train up to provide backing vocals on the whimsical Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man and the grin never left her face.

For the Brisbane gig, four nights before, I’d hugged the barrier to catch every expression from this big-hearted singer, but this time I hung back on the rail of the balcony to take in the scene and let the music do its stuff.

The lighting was simply effective, the stage bathed in lancing red spots for the opening Bloodletting (again segueing from a tape of the ominous bassline of Bauhaus’s Bela Lugosi’s Dead) flicking to greens and blues for the chorus, and thereafter continuing to reflect the mood and highlighting solos.

With Jim Mankey on guitar — occasionally smiling, a big display from a man who tends to not give much of himself away on stage preferring to let the guitar do his talking — and Gabriel Ramirez on drums, Johnette laid down some thundering basslines as the band rocked out.

But Johnette’s voice was the key instrument, showing nuance and power as she cajoled, mourned and raged. When I was Fool exploded, Your Haunted Head became a jam, Run Run Run was as hard and heavy as you please. The crowd sang along, the chorus especially noticeable on Happy Birthday and the closer, Tomorrow Wendy (about a woman with AIDS who commits suicide), during which Johnette issued a plea to support gay teenagers and reduce the instance of suicide. She changed the finale of the song, saying she’d think everything would be all right, yes she did.

It was a shame there were a few in the packed house who didn’t respect the band’s request to forgo taking photographs — honestly, dickheads, do you really think flash from a distance is going to achieve anything but annoyance for the artists and those around you? (sigh: that’s a rant for another day)

There was a lovely dig at BP on Everybody Knows (she plugged the upcoming Leonard Cohen tour after this cover) — the Gulf has not been forgotten — and she added what sounded like a Native American chant to the cover of Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning.

Humble and self-effacing, yet passionate and possessed of one the most striking voices, Johnette — in her 50s — appears to occupy a happy place indeed in her musical career.

How fortunate we are that she continues to share the love.

  • The set list was, as far as I could tell, the same as in Brisbane, though they played Someday last night and I didn’t note it on Tuesday; possibly I missed it in my recollection, though last night’s gig did last the best part of two hours, a little longer than Brissie.
  • Graveyard Train to support Concrete Blonde

    Huzzah! The support for Concrete Blonde’s 20th anniversary tour of Bloodletting has been announced: Melbourne’s Graveyard Train. Get your rockin’ darkly tinted blues n country gumbo here (apparently). Net snippets suggest they’ll be a superb match. Only a week before the curtain goes up!

    That would be Tuesday, rather than, um, Someday:

    SPEAKING of Melbourne bands, it was sad to read that The Vagrants played their last gig in September. I’d only just stumbled across their bluesy Aussie rock — innocuous but mighty fetching, and I had a hankering to catch them live to see if they’d go all firecracker like they sound as if they might on their album Be True. A shame. Here’s a taste of what we new chums missed out on:

    Concrete Blonde touring Australia in October

    It’s official: Concrete Blonde are to tour Australia in October playing Brisbane (19th), Sydney (21st), Melbourne (22nd) and Perth (23rd). I am ecstatic.

    The band, who broke through with the single Joey and just couldn’t sustain the chart impact, are touring to mark the 20th anniversary of their brilliant album, Bloodletting, which has recently been released in a remastered edition with extra tracks.

    Three new things and a touch of regret

    First, the good new stuff:

    1. Prahran Markets secrets have been revealed thanks to a cool guided tour, and I now know about avocado that doesn’t go brown on exposure to air — not before the salad’s eaten, anyway — and the enticing woodfire smell of smoked garlic and the dizzying array of spuds, including purple ones. I don’t know when, if ever, I was so excited about fresh produce. Product of choice, however, was a blue cheese from Victoria’s Apostle Whey.

    2. Ego Likeness have a new album due out any minute now, called Breedless. (Here’s a nice live clip of an older tune, Severine)

    3. Spotted in the wild: Brissie writer Will Elliott’s Pilgrims. You might remember Will for his Aurealis-winning debut The Pilot Family Circus and its dastardly clown action.

    And now for the regret, though it’s still good news, oh yes! Concrete Blonde, or at least original members Johnette Napolitano and Jim Mankey, are hitting the road to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their album Bloodletting. This was the album that made me fall in love with this group, and it spawned their first gold in the form of Joey — in Australia, mind! Of course, the regret attached to this news is that the band don’t have dates for an Aussie leg on their tour. To celebrate, here’s the title track to Bloodletting: delicious!

    The Cult to tour Australia!

    It’s official – 1980s super rockers The Cult are hitting Australia for the first time in 15 years. Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy are in the swing. I’ve been miffed about missing them in New Orleans by a few days a couple of years back when they were touring their latest album, Born Into This. A highlight of my time at The Courier-Mail was getting to do a phone interview with Astbury, so seeing the band – one of my favourites – is going to be a hoot. Tickets are on sale on March 19!

    Here’s a clip of classic single She Sells Sanctuary to get you in the mood for the May tour!