Leah Flanagan, rapidly maturing as one of Darwin’s foremost artistic exports to the world, has released her second album, Nirvana Nights.
A tribute to the Nirvana bar, Darwin’s musician’s hangout of choice, the song Nirvana Nights, though last track on the album, is by no means the least. It showcases a voice redolent with power, control and artistry. Likewise, the voice of the first track, Goodbye, is that of a soul old beyond Flanagan’s years – knowing but not jaded, a big, endowed voice that weaves nuance through every phrase.
Emotion is the power behind this record. Though never trite or teary-eyed, it’s concerns are of the heart, and both Goodbye and Alyawarre Girl are to Flanagan’s family borne.
The Liz Stringer-penned Innocent Hearts is, surprisingly, the most pop moment, but Uneven Stairs bares a soul in flight toward something momentous. There’s something in this song – a wrenching ardour worthy of Aretha, that takes this album into a genre of its own – Australian country soul.
Producer/engineer Steven Schram (The Cat Empire/Little Birdy/Custom Kings) has let the players do the talking and created a sweet and polyphonous stream of blue-tinged balladry that sits easily under Soul, but there’s more to it than that. He hasn’t disguised its bare bones – the lilting strum and cadence are purest country, and the spirit of George Jones and Dusty Springfield inhabit Each Day of the Week and Calling Names respectively, while September Song’s Melbournian nostalgia and Nirvana Nights’ plangent trumpet are both countrified by a winsome ukelele lilt.
Having enlisted the cream of Melbourne’s musical family – Liz Stringer, Grant Cummerford, Matt Earl, Netanela Mizrahi, Mel Robinson, Emily Lubitz and Harry Angus among them, the songs are lavishly produced – violin, trumpet and keys taking their parts by turn, double bass and a laconic beat rolling it effortlessly along.
But Flanagan’s voice is by far the standout instrument and that is made of raw soul, a reaching, potent instrument that’s nowhere better worked than on Innocent Hearts, First Class Lovers or the fabulously tender Uneven Stairs.
With Nirvana Nights Flanagan has launched her Darwin soul onto a wintry national stage. It has the warmth to keep her there for many nights to come.