Mick Thomas is a card. He’s an Aussie larrikin, as synonymous with this great land as the laughing kookaburra. He is also the mastermind of such groups as Weddings Parties Anything and The Sure Thing. In 2012, he has decided to do a Ron S. Peno and release his first studio album proper, despite notching up many years in the biz. But on The Last Of The Tourists, Thomas is having the last laugh, after travelling to the States to complete more additions to his breezy, self-proclaimed “ongoing song cycle”.
Thomas has said that Paul Kelly assisted him while he was coming up through the ranks, and these days the likes of Tim Rogers and Darren Hanlon have credited Mick with influencing their songwriting. Now the latter has recently returned the debt by producing the elder statesman’s solo effort. The scene was Portland, Oregon, and this literate pair were joined by Thomas’ WPA bandmate, Mark ‘Squeezebox Wally’ Wallace on the accordion and keys, while Hanlon brought along Shelley Short for the ride. She sings vocals, including a lead turn on “The People That You Meet”.
The Last Of The Tourists is 11 tracks that, in true Thomas form, are rich in details about characters and past lives. They often read more like short stories as he uses anything and everything for inspiration: drinking, war, history, love, people and places (and that’s just a starter!) They are rather tall tales at times, but they also boast a poetic folk sensibility, meaning that their charm is more understated than the big, bold and brash undertakings by most artists. This is a folk road, full of various bends and forks along the way, and Thomas has some illustrious fellow travellers, both in America or Australia.
“All The Roads” sees some mellow accordion start proceedings, while Thomas spins the words east, yeast, and beast into a delightful rhyming couplet. “Goodbye” slowly changes tack, a lilting ballad of the smile-inducing kind. It’s so pleasant and innocuous that you could imagine it being the theme song to some television show – you know, the sort where everyone knows your name…
Blink and you might swear that Dan Kelly was responsible for “Woody’s First Wife”. It’s a quirky, poppy number, rather self-explanatory, really. But it’s Kelly’s uncle Paul who could’ve penned next track, “Gallipoli Rosemary”. This is the album’s centrepiece, and one that has ‘folk classic’ stamped all over it. The lyrics were inspired by a rosemary bush growing in the backyard, one taken from a cutting of a cutting from a plant found in the battlefields of Gallipoli. Thomas sees it as a metaphor for the faded connection to the past. The song achieves this link by being pure and simple, a feeling that is replicated in “The Clamorous Warbler” – an ode to appreciating the little things in life, like Darren Hanlon channelling Ringo Starr’s advice to “Stop and Smell The Roses,” way back when.
The album is completed by the catchy ditty, “My Mother’s Guitar,” a song that dates back to 1987. There is also the stomping title track, a celebration of past glories that was written while holidaying on the Mediterranean. It documents a beauty that fades as the rain clouds come in. A much more sunny addition to this effort however, is the inclusion of the second disc, a copy of Thomas and Wally’s Song Bingo Request Show, which will get you laughing, or at least raising an eyebrow or two.
Like an outdoor Barbie, The Last Of The Tourists is a relaxed, informal affair, despite it tackling some rather heavy universal emotions, the passage of time and philosophy in general. It is a smart casual record if there ever was one. It’s another fine salute to everyday life, the kind of minutiae that gets forgotten in the whirlwind of technology and the all-round frenzy that characterises the present age. Thankfully the antidote to this seems to be Thomas, a balladeer making gentle, excellent music.
Originally published on 31 May 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32745/Mick-Thomas–The-Last-Of-The-Tourists
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