Review of the Week : Western Sun
by Noel Mengel
THE self-titled debut album by The Grapes has never been far from my stereo. Actually, it’s been there for most of the past 14 years. Many other albums have come and gone in that time, yet something about that one never seems to lose its flavour.
It might be soaked in ’60s influences – it must be the only record ever to feature covers of tunes by The Bee Gees and Gene Clark – yet it never feels out of time.
And here – miracle! – is a second Grapes album which feels as welcome as the first breeze of spring. Of course, this duo have quite a pedigree: Ash Naylor, of rock band Even and one-time guitarist for Paul Kelly, and Sherry Rich, raised on Bribie Island, now back in Melbourne after a 10-year sojourn in the US. (Her Dakota Avenue album recorded in the fabled Wilco loft, released last year, is also strongly recommended).
After all those years apart, the natural chemistry still works well, keeps each other on their toes.
In the end, their busy lives, finding time to work together between other projects, raising their families, certainly has done his album no harm and may have strengthened it.
The objectivity that brings ensures there is no flab, nothing that dilutes the whole.
Overall the sound is rather like the title and the cover, those rays from the west covering the field in a golden kind of light.
The hazy instrumental which opens (and closes) the album gives way to the ‘60s-drenched descending guitar riff of Step Inside; Make It Out Alive strikes a balance between ominous lyric and optimistic musical setting; Mama (Why You Hurt Me So) is a bristling pop-rock tune with Rich’s heartbreakingly beautiful vocal part lifted up by some George Harrison-standard guitar parts from Naylor. In The Night Pasture, with lyric by American poet Richard Watson Gilder, is as haunting as a lonely bird cry across the water.
Fans of that long trail that leads from The Byrds and The Band to Patty Griffin, this is for you.