For the unacquainted, Mick Pealing and Nick Charles are both members of STARS – the iconic Australian 70’s country rock band who have been back together for 5 years now and have released two highly acclaimed albums, ‘Boundary Rider ‘ and ‘One More Circle Round the Sun’). Mick Pealing and Nick Charles have also been performing around Melbourne as an acoustic duo playing a set of extremely appealing original roots/blues material that has at long last seen the light of day on their brand new album, Songs From This Town.
Some of us can recall when the first half of the 1970s was the heyday for introspective songwriting and close-harmony singing. America / Cat Stevens / Jim Croce / Dan Fogelberg etc. A few decades on, Songs From This Town taps into the same well without sounding anything but contemporary. The result is an impressive set of original songs with wide appeal for any fan of blues/folk/country/bluegrass/ Americana etc.
The album opens with the upbeat blues shuffle of ‘For Granted’, a catchy acoustic tune highlighted by some slick acoustic guitar texture with Pealing and Charles sharing singing duties on the verses. Stop and smell the roses while you have the time. Infectious opening tune.
‘Love Is A Gift’ is a colossal song with huge radio appeal. Super catchy, clean and strong vocal delivery, singalong harmonies and violin on top. A neat little guitar lick underscores the whole thing, some subtle mandolin too – all set to positive lyrical imagery that love is the only way – the light in the dark. Some blue-ribbon song writing on display here. If Paul Kelly released this the pundits would be falling over themselves. Enough said.
The plaintive ‘Heartache In Country’ is a captivating tribute to the country music genre without parody or condescension, and a good example as any to highlight some of the musical elements in the Pealing / Charles arsenal. Pealing’s strong and distinct vocals intertwine with Charles’s acoustic guitar tapestry without dominating each other. Mix in the other instruments – some pedal steel, delicate violins, multi layered harmonies and a lush arrangement – and you start to see why this album is just that little bit special. The blend of mandolin and harmony vocals on the middle-eight is quite exquisite. Play it Nick.
‘Long Road Home’ uses the metaphor of a steam train to reflect on life’s journey. Looking back – and waiting for that train to take you home again, back to a better time. This is a catchy and melodic tune characterised by strong lyrical imagery that forces the listener to contemplate, ponder or Drift Away (pun intended). Musically, it’s lifted by Pealing’s resonant vocal and Charles’ exceptional picking style.
Next up is the stunning ‘Hiding In Plain Sight’. This song is nothing short of sublime. With echoing guitars that slide behind bold strong vocals, this is a beautiful song, superbly crafted. Part roots/folk – part early 70’s California soft rock, (that’s a compliment) this song holds the listener with its strong melodic lines and reflective lyrical content. It’s thematically poignant, with weeping pedal steel that virtually expresses its own emotion. The expression and feel in Charles’ solo leaves me without superlatives. Again, all this is testament to the calibre of the song writing team of Pealing and Charles.
‘God’s Got It In For Me’ has a ton of melodic sensibility – from its satirical lyrical philosophy to its catchy singalong chorus, with Charles’ likeable finger picking front and centre. The chorus is one of those ear worms that sticks in your head and you will be singing days later.
Musically, the common denominator to every track on Songs From This Town are Mick Pealing’s defined vocal delivery and Nick Charles’ acoustic guitar and fingerpicking style. Both are masters of their craft, yet Pealing’s use and understanding of phrasing and melody is a joy to listen to. Charles’ feel and expression in his playing constantly engages the listener.
Thematically, many of the songs on this album have a deliberate reflective quality. Looking back on life and the road well-travelled. Whether that’s to do with getting older, relationships, indulging in memories, times now past – or sage commentary on the state of the world. Thinking back on a world and times less complicated, pre-pandemic, when dystopia was only imagined in an Orwell novel. You get the point.
As with ‘Love Is A Gift’, on the song ’More Love’ – the message is a positive one, and that is that love and only love will endure. Hate is everything you think it is. Words by the great Neil Young – yet a message clearly evident on this wonderful interpretation of Tim O Brien’s tune from 2000 and a song that reached new audiences in 2020 during lockdown due to its message of goodwill – without sounding corny or trite in any way. Musically, this is an intermingling of Pealing’s rich, smooth vocal and Charles’ tasty guitar, augmented nicely by some violin. Yep, lots to like about this one too.
‘Shadow Town’ is a punchy bluegrass number with violin and fingerpicking interlocking sweetly on a tune reminiscent of vintage Byrds. Singalong chorus, violin solo, harmony vocals, lots of hooks. Instant classic. I had to check the songwriting credit to make sure it wasn’t a McGuinn / Clark composition.
‘This Town’ is written in the folk storyteller style – and like other tunes on this record, lyrically, it’s a reflective, evocative muse on the past. Poignant, evocative, and highlighted by pedal steel, sweet harmonies and Pealing’s fine, bold voice.
Nick Charles takes lead vocals on the final track on the record, ‘Wasteland Of The Blues’, written about and during the lockdown of 2020. Beautifully played, showcasing his fine fingerpicking technique. For every John Mayer, Tommy Emmanuel or Don Ross out there – just remember that there also exists an unassuming player down Melbourne way who has built a hard earned reputation as Australia’s virtuoso of acoustic blues and roots guitar. Go and see Nick Charles live, or pick up any of his albums – you won’t be disappointed.
This is an album rich with melodies and emotion and heartfelt songs that really strike a chord, if you excuse the pun. Nothing pretentious, nothing overplayed. All top shelf – from the song writing, to the playing, to the vocals and harmonies, to the production, to the use/placement of instruments that really enrich and add colour to each song – particularly the pedal steel, violin and mandolin.
Stupendous is not a word I use lightly, but with this album, its apt. With Songs From This Town, Mick Pealing and Nick Charles have created an album that is an acoustic country classic, and a stellar collection of memorable songs. Highly recommended.
Songs From This Town is available from pealingcharles.com a website that also lists all the upcoming tour dates.
Be sure to check out www.charlesguitar.com for all of Nick Charles albums and solo dates, and also mickpealing.com to keep up to date with all of Mick’s upcoming gigs including with Raw Brit.
Mick also hosts a very engaging radio show every Monday night called Country Miles which is available to listen to online as well, check out mickpealing.com for more details. And not to mention starsoffical.com for all the latest news and upcoming shows for STARS, you can also purchase the aforementioned Boundary Rider and One More Circle Round The Sun LPs from that site.
There is also a terrifc 20 minute film by Chris Franklin (below) that looks at the making of this album and the story behind the songs.