Where there’s smoke there’s fire
BY CHRIS JOHNSON
What do you get when you put a small bunch of musos, some of them senior diplomats and journalists in previous lives, together in the same room?
They put on such a romping great live music show that they turn it into an album – that’s what you get.
At least that is what happened in the case of Den Hanrahan and the Rum Runners, whose latest offering Smoke and Mirrors is one of the coolest and most original independent Australian live album releases to emerge for some time.
Americana, Australian style is the best way to describe the music this band makes. But whatever the genre, it rocks.
And rock they did at the Oddfellows Hall in Yass, NSW on July 16 last year. So much so, that a live recording of the night’s concert has just been released on CD and iTunes.
Independent acts are where the music scene is at these days, with some outfits putting out world class albums at highly professional production levels, but with an earthy, organic feel.
That’s Smoke and Mirrors in a nutshell.
The songs are outstanding – most written by bandleader Den Hanrahan, whose influences (Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Ryan Adams, to name just a few) shine through on every track.
Switching seamlessly between the fast and furious, and chilled and intimate, the 13 tracks on this album are as good as anything you might hear coming out of Nashville or New York.
They are cleverly written, intelligent songs so catchy that when performed live, audiences can’t help but get up on their feet.
That vibe oozes throughout this live recording and translates into a feel-good experience even when listening to it in the car or living room.
Picking the best songs on any album is highly subjective and in this instance quite difficult.
But my choices are Track 2 No Diesel and Track 5 Nothing. Having said that though, every track is excellent.
Hanrahan is a Bathurst boy, the son of the one-time local mayor there, and after training as an electrician, completed a degree in music composition and theory from Southern Cross University, Lismore.
He plays guitar and banjo ferociously – matched by the perfect voice for his style of song. His acoustic guitar solos are show stoppers.
The other Rum Runners include Dave O’Neill, who can play the strings off of anything with strings. The former Artistic Director of the National Folk Festival, (and now a music teacher), O’Neill has a long pedigree in the music industry, having toured internationally with the likes of Eric Bogle, the Bushwackers, Battlefield Band and others.
O’Neill dazzles on fiddle and mandolin, with some of the best solos you will ever hear.
Peter Logue is a former Canberra Press Gallery journalist, and was the chief political correspondent for the Australian and Daily Telegraph newspapers – and was once the President of the National Press Club.
Always the musician, Logue is still remembered for leading drunken singalongs on Bob Hawke’s VIP planes during prime-ministerial overseas trips of the day.
A multi-instrumentalist, Logue brings a classy piano accordion and a warped sense of humour to the Rum Runners.
Zena Armstrong, also a former journalist who escaped to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to become a senior diplomat posted to China, plays the Bodhran in the band and on the album.
Understated yet always setting the pace, Armstrong’s smooth Bodhran playing adds another refreshing dimension to the band’s sound.
On upright doghouse bass is the wildly talented Matt Nightingale, a sound engineer and television post-production supervisor.
Nightingale’s own Redbeard mobile studio recorded and mixed this album. He also co-produced it with Hanrahan.
In the Rum Runners, Nightingale is amazing on bass and harmonies and adds the cool element before he even plays a note.
Highly in demand as a bass player, Nightingale also plays with Heath Cullen and in the Blackmountain String Band.
Which all adds up to a mix of exceptionally talented musicians who have put together one very nice live album. It is well worth a listen.
Smoke and Mirrors
Den Hanrahan and the Rum Runners
Available at DenHanrahan.bandcamp.com