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Perry Keyes - The Last Ghost Train Home

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 8 / 10 / 2007

Perry Keyes - The Last Ghost Train Home
Label: Laughing Outlaw
Format: CD


Compelling second collection of tales of urban heartbreak and loss from Sydney-based taxi driver and singer-songwriter Perry Keyes, which proves to match up to 'Meter', his masterly 2005 debut album

There were doubts, you know. Doubts that Sydney based Perry Keyes could match the brilliance of his debut ‘Meter’ from 2005. Doubts that he could once again produce a batch of songs that draw you into his world and make you want to stay there even if, at times, it’s not an altogether pleasant place to be. Keyes, on that double debut, didn’t just write songs; he told stories and either wrapped them in heartbreaking melodies or rough rock work-outs. Names like Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen cropped up in reviews and not a bad word was written about Keyes. We can forget those doubts now and also those Costello / Springsteen comparisons. While Springsteen is undoubtedly the closest to Keyes musically it’s been some time since New Jersey’s finest came up with an album as strong as this. Keyes has found his own voice on this collection of eleven songs and his story-telling doesn’t only match that on ‘Meter’, it exceeds it. Once again Keyes writes about characters that are unknown to me (for the most part…the name of Joe Strummer sounds familiar) and once again by the end of the song I know these guys, as you will too. How much of ‘Meter’ was fiction is unsure but this time Keyes has written about growing up in Sydney, in the neighbourhoods of Redfern and Waterloo, and his stories concern the lives of Rugby League Football players like John Sattler, stunt motorcyclist Dale Buggins and Ronald Ryan, the last man hanged in Australia. All unknown to me I must admit, until the first time I heard this album and now I feel I know as much about them as I do Joe Strummer ( the title of a song on the album). This is all down to the way Keyes paints such a vivid picture of each character in every song. That he is also a little upset about losing the community spirit which was once so strong in Sydney adds a few more affecting brush strokes to these masterpieces. Keyes opens the album with three of the strongest songs he has ever put down to tape. The first, ‘The Day John Sattler Broke His Jaw’, sounds like Roger McGuinn fronting the E Street band. The aforementioned Sattler broke his jaw in several places seven minutes into the Grand Final in 1970 then played on for the whole duration. Keyes takes us on a journey around Sydney visiting the places where Sattler is still spoken about while he reflects on all the changes in his hometown. The sadness and bitterness in his tale betrays the feel-good vibe the music conveys. As usual with lines like “where stoned girls walk in circles with babies on their backs” and “ as big trucks roll down wide streets with heroin filled storm drains” Keyes pulls you into this city. You’re there with him every step of the way. ‘Kids Day’ follows and Keyes shows a gentler side as he details the yearly Easter Show held at the Sydney Show Grounds. Touching on the day when children would get in for free it highlights how important this gathering must have been to those who found it hard to make ends meet let alone have a day out at the fair. Just now the third song on this album is the one. Up there with the best of ‘Meter’ (‘NYE’ and ‘Some Aches’) ‘Double On The Main Game’ is without a doubt the best song I’ve heard for some time. As on ‘Meter’ the wonderful Bek-Jean Stewart adds her vocals to some of the songs here and, as usual, when she does the results are stunning. Listen to Keyes and Stewart singing “I wanna lay in the arms of the ones that I love forever and ever” and fail to be touched at the same time as you want to sing along at the top of your voice with them. It’s one of those moments that confirm that, given the right voices and melody, music can change your whole day with just a couple of lines in one song. But be aware, this song could well cost you dearly. What should have been a pleasant late summer morning at the end of September was in fact a grey, dark sign that autumn was truly with us. ‘Double On The Main Game’ was on the car CD player; suddenly all was well with the world and this non-singer shakes off the morning blues by singing at the top of his voice. As my voice raised so did my speed. Then a flash from a speed camera tried to dampen the moment but failed. Knowing full well that a hefty fine was now on its way to me still didn’t take the smile from my face. Keyes, you cost me, but with music as life affirming as this it is well worth it. Just now Keyes is at the top of his game; he doesn’t slot neatly into any genre, he writes melodies which defy you to sing along; his lyrics are intelligent and few can tell a story so neatly and precisely as Keyes does in a four minute pop/rock song. These songs are littered with such vivid descriptions of everyday life Keyes really does transport you to another place. Listening to these eleven songs is like reading your favourite book, the one you never tire of reading. I had to say it in 2005 with ‘Meter’ and I’ll say it again now 2 years later; Keyes has made album of the year, without a doubt. ‘In Ancient Rome’ has been chosen to be featured in an episode of U.S. TV show ‘Californication’ which is confirmation that this beautiful music is going to break through to a much wider audience this time. And deservedly so, eleven perfect songs prove once again that Keyes is a major talent.

Track Listing:-
1 The Day John Sattler Broke His Jaw
2 Kids Day
3 Double On the Main Game
4 Sideshow Alley
5 Peter Cottonball
6 At the Speedway
7 Matthew Talbot's Blanket
8 In Ancient Rome
9 Dale Buggins Dream
10 Joe Strummer
11 The Last Ghost Train Home

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Interview (2007)
Perry Keyes - Interview
Malcolm Carter speaks to Australian singer-songwriter Perry Keyes whose songs tell with downbeat reality of his native Sydney and his much acclaimed second album, 'Meter'

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Meter (2005)
Stunning both immensely powerful and compassionate Michael Carpenter-produced double CD and debut album from Sydney-based singer-songwriter and taxi driver Perry Keyes

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