It seems like Ben Salter is set to take on the likes of Dave McCormack, Tim Rogers, Tex Perkins, et al. for the title of hardest working man in Australian Music. His list of credentials is almost tiring to read- from the intelligent hard rock of Giants Of Science to the folk/rock/country of The Gin Club, the garage skuz of The Young Liberals and bluegrass/folk from Wilson Pickers. And then there’s the busking and moonlighting in short-lived outfits The Hi Waves, Fatal 4 and Megafauna. The guy seems to have practically done it all and certainly had no shortage of people to support him in producing his long-awaited solo debut, The Cat.
The record was recorded and produced with Gareth Liddiard and Robert F. Cranny (Sarah Blasko) at Liddiard’s rural studio in Havilah, Victoria. The list of guests includes the former’s bandmates in The Drones: Fiona Kitschin and Dan Luscombe while Mike Noga received a songwriting credit for “I Am Not Ashamed”. Other guest musicians include Gin Club alumni Angus Agars and Ola Karlsson, plus jazz saxophonist Julie Wilson and many others. It was a cast of thousands, from those offering musical duties to the many supporters that funded the project via IndieGoGo (and yes, they all rate a mention in the liner notes).
The songs for The Cat were ones Salter says didn’t fit any of the aforementioned formats or that he was simply reluctant to part with. Some were certainly persistent forces to be reckoned with considering they’re over ten years old. So if you’re thinking this album is just another solo outing by a bandmember who is offering a slightly quieter affair with an acoustic guitar and playing the songwriting troubadour, then you’re sadly mistaken. Salter himself admits that there are touches of all his projects to be found here, but as a whole it sounds like no one in particular. He’s got a point, because with instruments like the Hurdy Gurdy, saxophone and Swedish bagpipes, there is always some extra embellishment or flourish to keep things interesting.
One thing Salter learned during the whole process was that he and Liddiard have a shared sense of restlessness, meaning they get bored easily. To combat this, they took an unconventional approach to the pop, rock and folk format. Salter admired Scott Walker’s documentary, 30 Century Man and opted for an organised chaos approach with the musicians. They were not allowed to hear much (or all) of the tracks that they would ultimately contribute to; there would be no guidelines or playbacks and it was a maximum of three attempts at each song. Not only did it all work in their favour, it also gave the proceedings a live and endearing, captured-in-a-moment feel.
The title track began life as a poem after a neighbourhood cat was tormented by a gang of birds. “Opportunities” – like a number of the songs offered here – starts off sounding like an acoustic Josh Pyke-esque number before a curveball like some bagpipes or some other such layer is thrown into the basket. Elsewhere, there are potshots at Brisbane’s Valley nightlife (“West End Girls”), a song by Cranny (“German Tourist”) and cuts originally written for The Young Liberals (“Once In A Life Time”) and Wilson Pickers (“Opportunities.“)
“Things Fall Apart” is a tender, piano ballad that precedes “So Tired Tonight” where Salter sings personal and rather witty, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. These include: “I’m a funny fuck, all-singing and all-dancing/Destined to give up and let the good Lord give me cancer”
“I Am Not Ashamed” meanwhile, was a waltz that transformed into a disordered pop-punk song with intergalactic keys courtesy of the Korg.
Over the years Salter has received compliments like “World’s greatest songwriter” from those in the know (including no less than one Tim Rogers). His blend of pop songwriting has been likened to the melancholy introspection of Elliott Smith and Nick Drake and the poignant opulence of Neil Finn and Paul Kelly’s tomes. Salter has worn many guises and as a result, his solo debut is equally rich, varied and relatable. It’s the product of a musical life well-lived where creativity has been honed just by doing and of course, getting out of your comfort zone. In short, The Cat is a clever and emotive pop/folk gem, a product of diverse experience that will stand the test of time.
Originally published on 10 October 2011 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/30357/Ben-Salter–The-Cat
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