A Fling with the King
(Snakedrive thru MGM)
A reader suggested late last year that I have a listen to this album and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks. I like it a lot.
Reading around on what others have said about Corrina Steel, I found a lot of references to Lucinda Williams, to Steel being an “Australian Lucinda Williams”, and anyone who knows me knows that that’s a comparison that I’m going to respond well to, given that Williams is just about the brightest star in my firmament of favourites. But you know what? The comparison is bogus. Yes, they are both women, and yes they both do excellent rock inflected country music — or is it country inflected rock music? — but that doesn’t mean they are alike or even strictly comparable. Lucinda plays country rock and is American; Corrina plays country rock and is Australian; therefore Corrina is an Australian Lucinda Williams. It’s a bit of a syllogism, isn’t it?
Steel’s music is much more blues based than Lucinda’s and you can hear it particularly in the backing vocals. Williams tend to use the close harmonies of a lot American roots music, or more specifically mountain/bluesgrass music, but on this album at least, Corrina Steel’s songs dip into the power backing that finds its home in American gospel and blues. The opening track, ‘No Praises’, is a classic case in point, and it not only gets the album off to a brilliant start it is vocal tour de force thanks in no small part to Tina Harrod’s backing singing. Or listen to the slower, grindier number, ‘Woman’, which is pure contemporary blues.
There’s also an instrumentation difference that illustrates the laziness of the comparison with Lucinda Williams. Again, Williams populates her bands with country-based players, so the pallete is largely drawn from lap and pedal steel (though I’d guess you’d have to say that the Buick 6 incarnation is a lot rockier). On this album, A Fling with the King, the dominant guitar sound is straight-ahead bottleneck slide, so once again it is the blues rather than country roots that is informing the sound. And what rip-roaring slide it is too. To add to the joy, when the slide is put away, the guitar has that loose, sloppy Keith Richards’ feel to it, a sound that in the Stones’ case is, of course, itself inspired by American country music. So on a track like ‘Save a Dream For Me’, you get that real ‘Tumblin’ Dice/Honky Tonk Women’ feel and hey, it works for me. The closest you get to a Doug Pettibone country twang (Pettibone being Williams’ former guitarist and, to my mind, the pre-eminent master of the art of tasteful, controlled, tremeloed country licks) is probably ‘Scorpio Moon’ (track 9), which is another great song.
Anyway, this is probably already too close to turning into an mini-essay on why Corrina Steel is not Lucinda Williams, so what else? Well, 0ne of the most attractive aspects of the album is the pace of it, by which I mean the songs go along at nice amble, never kicking over into a genuine rock clip, but always held in check by those blues and country influences, chugging along at a nice human pace so that you can pay attention to the vocals and the lyrics.
At the end of the day, though, it is the quality of the songs that matters and these are first class.
So it’s not just that there are great vocal sounds or guitar sounds coming out your speakers, but that they are presented within well-constructed, tuneful, melodic songs. There isn’t a bad or even a weak track on here, and at least half of them have already lodged themselves in my long term memory. If you want to draw comparisons with Lucinda Williams here’s one: I’d rather listen to this album that West or maybe even Little Honey. Not something I’d say lightly.
I think another reason this album won me over is because of the cover. We’ve talked a fair bit here and on Twitter about the notion of ‘ambition’ amongst Australian independent artists (most recently the Dan Sultan review) and I gotta say this is an album cover that says I want to sell albums. Good for her and I hope she does. I guess country-blues rock is always going to be a niche market, but it is a big niche and there are units to be shifted and I have to say I wonder why Corrina Steel is less commercially successful than, say, Kasey Chambers. Much prefer this album.
Anyway, I’m off to the shop to buy Steel’s other two albums. If they are half as good as this, I’ll be happy.