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KEV CARMODYMarch 13, 2007 | Author: Eva Roberts

kev-carmody-jpgWhen Kev Carmody was penning lyrics to some of his most spellbinding songs, the artists who have performed them on the new Carmody tribute album were little more than a glimmer in their parents’ eyes. Yet they have managed to take the prolific songwriters tunes and give them a contemporary meaning, melding the humour and angst that was so pivotal in the songs conception to current day. There is no bigger compliment to an artist than to have a tribute album recorded in their honour, and it is no different for Kev Carmody. Since the release of his debut album ‘Pillars of Society’ in 1989, Kev has brought a generation of Indigenous issues and stories to a wider audience; and earned himself a great deal of respect in the meantime. Now his music is being profiled to a new generation of fans through ‘Cannot Buy My Soul’ – The Songs of Kev Carmody.

Carmody joins a bevy of international artists who have been celebrated by their musical counterparts, from the tribute to Carol King in ‘Tapestry Revisited’ in 1995, to the commendations to the songwriting partnership of Elton John and Burnie Taupin in the 1991 release of ‘Two Rooms’ and up to the recent 2005 release of ‘She Will Have Her Way’ a celebration of tunes by Tim and Neil Finn.

‘Cannot Buy My Soul’ is a collaborative effort by some of the Australian music industry’s most celebrated performers and the lovechild of arguably one of the country’s best songwriters, Paul Kelly. Featuring the voices of Dan Kelly, John Butler Trio, The Waifs, Sara Storer, Bernard Fanning, Troy Cassar-Daley, Tex Perkins, Clare Bowditch, Missy Higgins and Augie March to name a few, it is an award-winning line-up.

Kev himself is still trying to come to terms with the fact that so many talented musicians want to help portray his music. “To have people of that calibre and musical ability to come together as a collective, it is absolutely fantastic,” he says. “It is a group of really well respected musicians who see a common focus in it for all humanity. It is not just Indigenous stuff, or whatever, it is everybody’s concern and they have put their own unique stamp on each track.”

He raves about Sara Storer’s interpretation of ‘Moonstruck’ and Clare Bowditch’s versions of ‘Blood Red Rose’. He believes the version of ‘Droving Women’ featuring Augie March, Missy Higgins and Paul Kelly is ‘off the planet’ and it is so surprise the combination of the artists’ voices is both chilling and uplifting. Most of all he is impressed that so many of the industry’s current beloved took the time out to record his album. Complimentary anecdotes aside, Kev says to put together such an album was a reconciliation as such, as far as music goes. It was also something of a relief to the songwriter who has been writing music for as long as he can remember.

“In some ways it is a bit of a life journey for me,” he says.“One song there was written in 1968 and just snippets of my observations through 40 odd years. Just to have these young people, who relate totally to it, who have picked it up, changed it, put words in, pull words out, changed the melodies – that old folk tradition before corporate copyright came in – another generation can now totally relate to it.” And the changes weren’t just in terms of the vocal arrangements either. The Waifs version of ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’, Kev’s tale of Vincent Lingari, was one track where experiment paid off.

Changing the track to two/ four time instead of six/ eight was something that worked wonders in Kev’s opinion. “It will be real exciting to sit on the verandah, look at the moon and not be able to hear a car for miles and just listen to it,” he says of his anticipated first listen of the complete record. “It was just an amazing response (from the musicians). Just the enthusiasm of the musicians, some of them I haven’t met, I have heard their music – we thought there would be three or four of them that would have other commitments, but no. We had trouble fitting everybody onto that 78-minutes on the CD.”

Kev Carmody was born into an oral culture where music and story- telling was always going to thrive. His mother was Aboriginal and his father Irish, so combining a Celtic and Indigenous lifestyle became second nature. He believes it was this oral culture that lead him down the path of such abstract and brutally honest songwriting.When his first album came out he was heralded as the Aboriginal Bob Dylan as his songs connected the black and white cultures, while forging an awareness of politics, racism, drug abuse, murder, love and turmoil.

“If you listen to the Irish tradition, it is all about their lifestyle, the things that worried them, the things that made them happy,” he says. “It is oral history and that is what really has happened with this album. It is a basic oral history of experiences and ideas that have happened over the years from my background. The old people who couldn’t read and write, boy, they could tell the most amazing stories. When I learned to read and write, I started to write down lyrics.”
Music was always in his bones and he began his early musical career studying classic music at university. And when it comes to composing his songs, the music always comes first.  Kev doesn’t subscribe to the theory of setting a schedule to write music; rather he believes it should be something of a natural progression.

He has been known to write music and put it away for years, returning back to the original sound a decade later when lyrics of some relevance complement it perfectly. “Unless the music works around the kitchen table or the campfire, all the electronics and the way of doing the music, won’t help it,” he says.

“I always write from music first. I have a guitar riff, or a banjo riff, and I just hone that. I might have that for years, or a cord progression, and then all of a sudden a situation will come along and you will think, that cord progression or that riff will fit here. Then the lyrics just pour out. You have got to have the music first; it has got to work as an instrumental or a good cord progression that really sticks in your head before I put words to it. It has got an emotive feel and all of the sudden you get a subject that will fit it. The music has got to stand by itself.”

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