The gothic is distinguished by certain features: abandoned, crumbling architecture; a sense of the sinister; an erotic titillation of the senses arising from the repressed mind. The monstrous lurks in wait. And while we think of the gothic as being an aesthetic of Victorian England, the band Bush Gothic point towards a kind of gothic to be found in England's far-off penal colony, Australia.
Bush Gothic are a trio, comprised of Jenny M. Thomas on fiddles, vocals (she can sing, and play fiddle, at the same time), and piano; Dan Witton, on double bass and backing vocals; and Chris Lewis, on drums, banjo, and vocals. For this recording, the trio's sound is fleshed out by The Lonely String Quartet. Bush Gothic's project is to take popular Australian songs -- particularly traditional songs of transportation, separation, the meting out of justice (criminal, and otherwise), murder, and wandering and bring to them fresh arrangements.
Thomas, as the lead vocalist, has arranged many of the tunes on The Natural Selection Australian Songbook. Songs such as Wild Colonial Boy, Female Transport, Here's Adieu To All Judges & Juries are readily recognizable to anyone with an interest in Australian song as is Eric Bogle's ubiquitous And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. The song choices are compelling, and in revisiting such material, Bush Gothic are clued into the kind of reinterpretation that one might find in England's new generation of folk performers, such as Jim Moray.
Musically, though, Bush Gothic turn each version of the songs into a kind of small-venue cabaret. The 'gothic' in their name is thematic, and not so much in the music, which is unerringly pretty. And perhaps because I was primed to enjoy a marriage between the dark subject material and rough-hewn music, I enjoyed The Natural Selection Australian Songbook's sparer moments. Wild Colonial Boy and Here's Adieu To All Judges & Juries build a sense of drama through their use of space; the former, though a steady swelling of strings, and the latter, through a slowly plodding piano and thudding percussion.
Sixteen Thousand Miles From Home has a gorgeous, haunting string introduction that sets up the heartbreak to come. It's those gutsy moments, which were effective in drawing out senses of alienation and desperation, which I wanted to hear more. Too many songs almost disappear into the pop-cabaret settings (although this has its benefits, as And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda sounds renewed). While an enjoyable listen, Bush Gothic emerged as distinctive to this listener only when possessed by their darker risks. Lee Blackstone