Camelot Lounge, March 29


Dusty Ravens. Photo supplied.

The dust fell from my ears. The cowboy album that had so excited me was just a recording, after all, and recordings can be manipulated as infinitely as the sun bakes the desert. While Sydney’s Dusty Ravens remain worthy of attention, they have some serious rehearsing to do to approximate in concert the Cuban-heeled power and winking glory of their recent Low Down Jimmy album.

Firstly to the positives. Andy Meehan’s composing ingenuity did not suddenly drown in a watering hole somewhere between the studio and the stage. Many of his songs are exceptional in conception and craft, boasting arresting and evocative melodies that are cleverly arranged to maximise the faux drama implicit in tales of deserts, horses, guns and whiskey. Highway and Bordertown Train are just two of the gems.

Meehan’s voice is not as big as the album suggested, yet when the accompaniment was gentle enough, as on the slow waltz of Still Got Gold, we could enjoy his singing’s bittersweet quality, and a vocal duet with trumpeter Kim Griffin lifted the countrified Coming Home.

But too often the material’s excellence was masked by the performances. A technical problem with Meehan’s acoustic guitar sound conspired against the early songs, and throughout the night his words were lost, with Mark Hetherington’s enthusiastic drumming often too loud and the vocals always too soft. Meanwhile Griffin and co-trumpeter Jane Grimley struggled to stay in tune with each other a proportion of the time.

The band truly became airborne when guest singer Peter Fenton joined for a mighty cover of Red Pony by the Triffids’ David McComb, and again later when pedal steel guitarist Jason Walker took the microphone. Although his acoustic guitar contributions were sometimes meandering, Walker’s pedal steel could cry like a lonely lover, and then later, amid guest appearances from Fenton, Jo Meares and Alannah Russack, it turned out that he had the voice to blow everyone out of the watering hole, with a rollicking Folsom Prison Blues and a haunting Streets of Laredo.