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The Sydney Morning Herald

Songs of praise

Author: Bruce Elder
Date: 09/09/2000
Words: 504
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Metropolitan
Page: 13
Various Artists

Buried Country

(Larrikin Records)

Eclectic collection of Aboriginal country and pop

This is part of one of the country's most comprehensive multimedia productions. There are a film (already shown at film festivals and on SBS), a book and this double-CD compilation of 46 tracks. Underpinning the Buried Country project is a detailed look at the Aboriginal love of country music. No, not love. Total and absolute obsession.

If ever a group of people embraced a musical style, it was the Aborigines, from Broome to Bega and Bamaga. And it was a love affair stretching all the way from the communities on outback stations who waited, like teenage pop fans, for the old Slim Dusty caravan to roll into town through to the television personality Stan Grant, who, reputedly, has one of the best collections of country music in Australia.

This compilation is a cultural artefact. It is not the sort of thing anyone, apart from a few hard-core fans, would buy for listening pleasure. It is a strange hodgepodge of styles and traditions masquerading as a coherent statement. There's everything from Georgia Lee's Porgy and Bess-style reading of Down-under Blues (that ain't country at all) through to The Assang Brothers' strange, boppy and poppy version of the gospel classic, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, to real country acts such as Dougie Young, Bobby McLeod and Roger Knox.

Somewhere, probably around the first track (which happens to be Jimmy Little's Royal Telephone), all pretence of being "pure country" is abandoned, opening the way for the album to include such non-country acts as the haunting didgeridoo and song-stick rendition of Gurindji Blues by Galarrwuy Yunupingu. Then there's the Warumpi Band, Kev Carmody (typically Dylanesque folk characterises You Cannot Buy My Soul), Archie Roach (his beautiful Stolen Generations classic, Took the Children Away, is more folk ballad than country) and Tiddas (a fine, minimal, close-harmony version of In My Kitchen). The result is a collection of songs that is a reflection of the richness and diversity of Aboriginal popular music. There are a couple of tracks from the singing boxer, Lionel Rose, a fine piece of contemporary country from Troy Cassar-Daley and the remarkable and deeply moving Brown Skin Baby (the first song written about the Stolen Generations) by Bob Randall.

Why this love affair between Aborigines and country music? There are obviously very complex reasons, but it is fair to put a lot of it down to Slim Dusty, who has been one of white Australia's most committed and tireless ambassadors to the Aboriginal community. Of the rest, well, country music is an ideal vehicle for storytelling and it is also the music of rodeos, shearing sheds and rural Australia. The love affair is, surprisingly, a very natural musical fit.

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