For a trumpet player, Harry James Angus plays a mean guitar. Well, you could say that, but then you’d be discounting his actual playing – his great fingerpicking style is so good it’s almost finger-lickingly so. Plus, that’s not even taking into his account his successes as a versatile and creative musician with bands like The Cat Empire and Jackson Jackson…
Little Stories is his debut solo studio album, one that borrows material (six tracks) from his Live At The Spiegeltent collection. It was three years in the making with Angus playing the role of magpie- collecting up tomes and tinkering with them for hours in his lounge room. They provided him with hours of entertainment even if his self-described long-suffering wife had to listen as he stumbled through ideas, laughed at his own jokes and watched his characters take on lives of their own.
On his website Angus describes the work as “unfolding stories of buried bones, murderous stove cooks, sentimental corporate bankers and mystical cricket players”. If you want some musical reference points then you need look no further than the songwriting geniuses of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits but note that there is the added narrative styles of Paul Kelly and Ray Davies, not to mention the Aussie twang and dash of humour found in Darren Hanlon’s work. Angus is by his own admission a frustrated short story writer and with eleven of these babies it’s easy to see how he reached that particular conclusion.
On “Daddy’s Millions” Angus dusts off the old notebook and pen so that we get a soft, Lennon-esque acoustic tune which is perhaps Bendigo’s answer to Pulp’s “Common People”. “The Batsman” builds on the Australian theme, this time with lyrics about a disgraced cricketer with a left-field (geddit?) folk track and hints of Gareth Liddiard’s bite. There are also moments with Pete Townshend’s vocal range and lyrics that build on the latter artist’s dissection of life behind blue eyes. It also contains the charming words: “I just put another cherry on my cherry tree”.
We get some Mumford & Sons-inspired folk with searing harmonies on “My Boring Life” while “The Banker” could be an anthem for the Occupy generation. Angus proves he can belt out a sweet and modest ditty just like his bandmate, Felix Riebl did on his recent solo album. While the two are honest singer-songwriters, the difference is that the former is content in his personal life and enjoys writing gritty lyrics that verge on the anti-folk, anti-love and other messy sentiments soaked in beer, blood and vomit (like “The Stovecook & The Waitress”) or an abattoir worker in a stark love/hate portrait (“Matty & Josie”).
“Underground” is a little bit of everything- part murder ballad, part chorus line set in the Wild West and quiet moments looking for the answer, with these usually spent staring into the bottom of a bottle of whisky. The hard-liquor swilling is also obvious on “In The Smallest Hours” with its vibe not unlike a Johnny Cash ramble with an added whistle and a hum.
Little Stories is an engaging, if unusual, hodgepodge of ideas. Hovering the line between outright cheekiness and greater meaning, it can be rather confessional and introspective. However, at other moments Angus seems content to tell his yarns about the world through the eyes of an idiosyncratic character or ten. In short, these songs are all interesting and rather tall tales; best told and enjoyed with a cup of tea… or ten.
Review Score: 8/10
Originally published on 10 November 2011 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/albums/harry-james-angus-little-stories-2011-lp
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