MD Horne heads down the road less well travelled

red dirt bitumanRed Dirt Bituman - MD Horne (self released)

This is a clever stripped-down blues-rock album, a stark and personal journey full of evocative twists and turns and as grittilyAustralian as its wilfully mis-spelt title suggests. 

“MD Horne” is Mark Horne, Sydney bassist for many bands but most notably the brutal 300 st claire and Johnny Casino and the Secrets. Mark recorded it on a sojourn to Spain, where his mate Johnny is domiciled. MD handles acoustic guitars and vocals, and Señor Casino plays everything else.

“Red Dirt Bituman” is Horne’s debut solo album and its title plays on the dichotomy of a man torn between his connections to the city and the bush. Truth be told, most Australians cling to the coast like limpets on a tin boat and wouldn’t be seen dead on a dirt road. M.D. Horne, has travelled plenty of dirt tracks and blacktops and his music speaks of both.

Horne is armed with a bass player’s voice so don’t expect to hear from the Vienna Boys Choir. His weatherbeaten vocal isn’t a million miles away from that of the late Ian Rilen or Horne's dear departed mate, Damien Lovelock. And therein lies the attraction. You can't buy character. Casino’s accompaniment is minimalist, bluesy guitar with the occasional bass-line tacked on. If you’re familiar with his work you’ll know what a lyrical player he is.  

Casino and engineer Pepe Gomar have pulled a rich, warm sound.

And these are strong songs. “Book of Madness” starts things briskly with some fine finger picking.  The eerie “Noonkanbah” has a sonic quality reminiscent of the early Cruel Sea. Ditto, “The Light Inside Me”, where there’s not a wasted note. 

The emotional sinews that come to the skin's surface on the best solo albums are raw on “Someone Knew”, where Horne’s straining vocal is pushed front and centre. It makes for uneasy listening but it’s also playing to his strength on a song of personal loss. Casino’s guitar accompaniment subtly underlines every word. 

“Absinthe Robbery” is a spoken word story with a funny sting in the tail. Laconically told to a soundtrack of scarifying guitar distortion that mirrors the real life experience, it recalls Brother Wayne’s “Incident on Stock Island” - except it's 10 times drier.  

You can taste the red dirt on “Plain Dirt”, a similarly told road story that transcends the distance between the outback and Sydney’s Redfern. If you’re playing along at home and you’re not hip to dinky-di Aussie lingo, you may need sub-titles.

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Tags: johnny casino, mark horne, MD Horne, red dirt bituman, red dirt, bitumen, 300 st clare

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