CD REVIEW – ‘Bittersweet’ by Tarnation.  (Victoria, Australia 2010)

There are several reasons I buy a CD: because it’s a definitive album I just have to have; because I’m supporting my mates and getting the word out; and finally, it’s a source of juicy material for my own repertoire.

This album scores on all 3 points.  ‘Bittersweet’ features traditional bluegrass and old timey instruments and the content is about 50% original, 30% traditional, with bonus country style favourites by John Hiatt, John Prine, and Hank Williams.

The title track ‘Bittersweet’ written by Paul Gadsby (guitar/vocals), showcases his smoky, crooning vocals.  For the ultimate in his vocal style, listen to “Little Old Wine Drinker Me” – a tasteful bluesy version of the overly-smooth hit by Dean Martin; and Lost Highway – a Hank Williams song.

The John Prine song ‘Gone’, has a very different voice;  Rod Boothroyd (Double bass/vocals) reminds me of Paul Kelly.  Hear him again on ‘That’s the Way the World Goes Round’ and the lovely old back-of-the-bus song ‘Goodnight Irene’.  (Love those close harmonies!)

Peter Somerville (banjo/vocals) picks elegant bluegrass banjo - I first heard him on the album “Smoke” (Paul Kelly and Uncle Bill) and cribbed a heap of banjo licks from that CD!  Peter also downhands a mean clawhammer on Angeline the Baker and ‘Cattle Lullaby’.  Peter’s definitive banjo contribution to this album imho are his original instrumentals: ‘The Muse’, ‘Icy Creek’ (clever-dickey melodic and creepily modal) ‘Emma’s Waltz’ and ‘Banjo No. 5’.  All I can say is if this is No 5 bring on the other 4! 

There’s a potential trap when putting together an album.  Too much variety and too many vocalists and the CD sounds like a sampler.  Not so with Tarnation.  The tracks sound like they’ve been carefully chosen from a lot of late night jams.  Their playing is always tasteful – they do what’s right for the moment. 

Click here for examples: Icy Creek and Bittersweet

I intend to crib shamelessly from this album!  Lovers of acoustic music – Get it here!

Tarnation Band on MySpace

Wendy Holman


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