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Jeff Williams And The Clear Spacemen - White Under Green

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 20 / 2 / 2002

Jeff Williams And The Clear Spacemen - White Under Green
Label: Laughing Outlaw
Format: CD


"Stunning" Australian release with strong Triffids influence, which comes from "the darker side of alt country"

If its initial releases in the U.K. are anything to go by, then Australia’s Laughing Outlaw Records is going to be a label to watch for lovers of power pop and the ever widening net of alt country. Jeff Williams wrote all the words and music on this, his second album since the break up of Acuff’s Rose, the band he fronted, but it’s far from a solo album. Note the ‘and The Clear Spacemen’ credit as artists. For although Jeff is an extremely talented lyricist and vocalist and no slouch on the guitar and piano either, the band he has assembled to back him on these 10 tracks is outstanding. He has Barry Turnbull on electric guitar and his old band member from Acuff’s Rose, Gerard Rowan, on pedal steel and dobro. Without diminishing the obvious talent of those musicians what really makes this music the treasure it really is is in the playing of Phil Kakulas, a former member of The Triffids. The full, melancholy sound he gets from his double bass really sets the mood and atmosphere of these songs. But this is one of those records where, although on the first listen it’s Kakulas’s playing which captures the attention, with repeated plays it’s Turnbull’s guitar or, at the moment, for me, Rowan’s pedal steel which shine through. In other words although by writing the songs Jeff would seem to be the major attraction, this is very much a band effort. And a fine band at that who bring space and emotion to his songs. Maybe the main reason it all works so well is that the album was recorded ‘live’ in the studio over just two sessions. The second reason it sounds so good is probably down to the fact that Jeff called in Julian Wu to produce the songs with him. Julian has worked with The Go Betweens and David McComb (the sadly missed one-time Triffids singer/songwriter). As good as the songs are in their own right, they simply couldn’t fail to be anything less than impressive when so much talent is brought together on one project. So, what about the songs? The CD contains seven brand new Jeff Williams’s songs plus three songs from his back catalogue which have been given a new lease of life. Broadly speaking the songs fall into the alt country net and deal with the perennial country music theme of guy getting dumped by girl. But what sets the album apart from, say, The Cowboy Junkies take on alt country is Jeff’s acute grasp of melody and his world-weary vocals. He sings it like he’s lived it and the pain of yet another failed relationship shows in his expressive vocals. “She cut across me like an ocean liner”, he sings in the first track, ‘No One’s Substitute’, which comes across like a darker, nightmarish version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’. In fact, most of the songs here wouldn’t sound out of place in a David Lynch film. In the early sixties some albums were mixed in a primitive form of stereo. The music was all condensed into one channel and the vocals in the other. You could turn one speaker down and just have the instrumental track going or just the vocals. I would love to hear this album like that. Jeff’s vocals are excellent and could stand up to repeated listening without any musical backing, but it would be great to hear just the music from, and I could pick out almost any track here, from say ‘Broken Into One’, without the vocals. I’m not normally a fan of instrumentals but for those dark, empty 3a.m. mornings or lazy Sunday afternoons these tracks would be ideal. It’s a rare talent that can produce a line like “I held out my heart and it was cut up by you”, from ‘I’m Staying At the Continental And Must See You At Once', without sounding the least bit depressing or to leave you wanting to hit the skip button. Again it’s the quality of the music and musicians that carry it off. There are no highlights on the album, but what Jeff offers is ten tracks of equal quality. From the threatening murder ballad which is ‘Maybe You’re Gonna Come Looking For Me In My Dreams’, to the aching, beautiful ‘Evil Angels’, to the dreamy ballad ‘Broken Into One’, it covers a lot of ground, each song having its own merits. If you get a chance to listen to just one of these tracks try the aforementioned ‘Broken Into One’. Apart from the excellent vocals it gives you the chance to hear just how good the guitar and pedal steel playing is. It’s this good throughout the whole album. In a word; stunning. Highly recommended to anyone who likes the darker side of alt country.

Track Listing:-
1 No One's Substitute
2 All Around You
3 Broken Into One
4 Cold Country Blues
5 I'm Staying At the Continental and Must See You At Once
6 Maybe You're Gonna Come Looking for Me in My Dreams
7 Evil Angels
8 Stranger to Your Love
9 The Hardest Thing I've Ever Had to Say
10 White Under Green

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