No, no, NO. This is all wrong! I don’t like country music. I don’t like country music. And one more time for the skeptics: I. Don’t. Like. Country. Music! There must be some mistake. My musical palette is a pure and refined slab of gold. Best clean my ears, start afresh. I am adamant about this: I DON’T LIKE – ok you get the picture. But Brisbanite Jackie Marshall’s hot-off-the-press second album Ladies’ Luck – dubbed ‘country-folk-rock’ by previous reviewers – challenges me, right from the opening line: “Eating cherries and drinking whiskey, we don’t have kids and there’s no man listening”. Ok, let’s be honest… she had me at ‘eating’.
Now, country music has received a lot of flack over the years. The CM lover has no place in our society of swanky young indie-pop-rock-electro-folksters, and it’s an unspoken rule that this particular genre has but one purpose: comic fodder. (Trust me, I hail from the dosey-doe-and-away-we-go Country Music Capital of Australia, Tamworth; I’m an expert). Yet despite the mentions of spurs, country fairs (gasp!) and rodeos (oh no, she di’n’t!) Jackie Marshall is being lauded as one of the most talented singer/song-writers around at the moment, since debuting in 2005 with folk/country debut Fight ‘n Flight.
I REALLY shouldn’t like this. And admittedly, there is corniness in this album: some of the big power ballad endings belted out in that strong husky voice of hers are akin to the type you’d find being slurred by some inebriated louts at the local on a Fridee noight. Fist clenching, eyes closed, the whole shebang. Yet somehow you still find yourself loving the song – heck, I even caught myself clench-handed! Her voice is phenomenal. Oozing personality (you can almost hear her smiling at times), she is able to control any vocal acrobatics that take place and the versatility is astounding. She possesses the ability to really let loose, grinding blissfully against your eardrums for the big ones and then, in stark contrast, perfecting an extremely emotive sense of fragility and warmth for the softer ballads. Decorated with gorgeous harmonies and backed for the big grunge numbers by the Black Alles Band, the album covers all the bases (seriously – have YOU ever heard a harmonized musical saw? Check out Track two).
Lyrically, the album ranges from the moving and poignant: “I should have drunk more/riding high on your horse/cos now my mouth sure feels dry/feels like a desert” to the darkly amusing: “And I don’t wanna be that girl keepin’ cats for company/So I’m gonna get a dog to sing along with me”. There are fun tracks, like the playful title track and opener ‘Ladies’ Luck’ and the fast-paced-fiddle-laced ‘Seven Licks’, but the songs where Marshall really excels are the ballads. ‘Excuse Me Mister (That’s My Heart)’ demonstrates this wonderfully – the dynamic variation between the soft, wistful verses and beautifully indulgent chorus grab you by the hairs on your neck and keep you floating in electric air. Her portrayal of feeling – and I say this as somebody VERY emotionally removed from paddocks/cattle/etc – is simply exquisite.
Now for all ye doubters, rest assured the grungier tracks on the album are more your sweaty-pub country than ‘grab-your-pardners-and-away-we-go’ barn dance variety (though I wouldn’t be surprised if I spotted a hay bale amongst the bar stools). ‘Too, Somebody’ will have you grabbing your air guitars for a no-holds-barred rock out, with Marshall’s gritty and passion-filled voice vies for the lead. ‘The Ugly Man’ claims equal intensity by the time it reaches its climax with staccato drumming and heavy guitar melodies kicking in for a pounding finish.
This is a new direction for Marshall and a far cry away from her more ‘folky’ previous album, but she not only pulls it off, she masters it. I for one hope she stays on this path for awhile (besides, then I can justify liking ‘rock’ music as opposed to ‘country’, thereby making me infinitely cooler in the eyes of society).