Coleum Versus - Jim Dickson (Citadel Records)
He mighr be embarassed by it being said, but Jim Dixon is the Grand Old Bass Man of Sydney’s rock and roll scene.
Since dropping in as a member of raw Brisbane band The Survivors at the tail end of the ‘70s to relocating and driving the bottom end for The Passengers and many more, he’s been as much a fixture as cold beer and sticky carpets.
Active duty in London with the Barracudas and then back home to play with the likes of Louis Tillett, Penny Ikinger, the New Christs, the Deniz Tek Group and Radio Birdman, Gentleman Jim is omnipresent as both player and punter. Along the way he’s supplemented his music by working in a record store, running his own curry kitchen and, more lately, bussing tourists around Greater Sydney’s natural wonders.
Now let’s be honest…your eyes turned upwards when the imminent release of his solo album was announced, didn't they? We all have a novel in us somewhere but there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be a good one, and Jim’s just the journeyman bass player, right? Solo albums are, by their nature, indulgent but, really, how’s this going to work?
Oh ye of little faith.
To be honest, “Coelum Verus” slipped past me in the headlong rush towards Xmas. The publicist sent me some samples but they got lost in the wash, alogn with some socks. So when the damn thing started popping up in people’s 2016 Best Of lists, what’s a poor boy to do but chase down a copy?
The album title is the Dickson family motto and Google tells me it translates to “Fortune favours the brave”, which seems entirely both appropriate and a misnomer. “Coelum Verus” is a brave venture, if only for the adventurous musical diversity within, but we’re actually the fortunate ones. Honestly, you don’t need that much courage to take the plunge on this.
Firstly, Dickson has assembled a stellar supporting cast. Bow Campell (Front End Loader) and Brent Williams (New Christs) lend their guitar skills, while Rebecca Hancock (ex-Rebecca’s Empire and Ed Kuepper and The Yard Goes On Forever) adds six-string and her formidable vocals.
Brent’s keyboards are prominent in the aural textures. Onetime New Christs bandmate Nick Fisher is on drums and there are a few guests. The songs are all Jim’s, and he mostly sings (not speaks) them with a confident vocal style not far removed from the way he talks.
As an aside, Jim once expounded to me about how great the Kinks were for most of their career - and he wasn’t talking about the obvious hits. His own shelves were full off their albums. It took a few years but the penny didn’t so much as drop as fall through the floor, dragging me into a sinkhole with it. Backtracking through a body of work I’d largely and shamefully ignored (except for the obvious early parts), I found the man to be 100 percent correct.
Listening to “Coleum Versus” - which is based on Dickson’s myriad musical influences - is just like that trip.
Chances are you’ll be challenged by “Coelum Venus” and probably surprised. You might think it’'s like nothing Dickson’s been involved in before, unless you remember the largely-ignored-while-they-were-around Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence, the band he was part of with X’s Steve Lucas. Folk, psychedelia and rock sounds swirl in and around each track, and the effect is beguiling and enchanting.
The centrepiece ifor mine s “Out of Space and Time”, a six-minute freakbeat opus where Dickson and Hancock duet in front of a mural of feeding-back guitars and surging rhythms. That one melds (via ambient bar room sounds) into “Every Old Dog Has Its Day”, a jaunty musical hall singalong that sounds at least part-autobiographical. It's embellished by tasty guitar and rollicking piano. I reckon Ray Davies would love it.
“Gravity” is grandiose in its psychedelic stylings, swaying onward towards the stars via an acoustic guitar staircase. “Eternal Reward” marches to the beat of Blundstones on a wooden floor before Dickson’s John Cale-like, declamatory semi-spoken vocal cuts in and Rebecca Hancock joins him. "Lysanne" is a Faces style rave-up with a touch of the Deep South, another cut that sounds like it was a hoot to record. Why don't all records have this much charm?
“Billet Doux”, a spicy instrumental, is a departure with a vaguely flamenco touch and would have sat well on a Cruel Sea record, Deniz Tek adds guitar. “Gyp’s Trip” is its kindred spirit, more wordy and enriched by wonderful percussion and a languid Dickson vocal.
The Dickson-Hancock vocal pauring is no more prominent than on "We Know How You Feel...Relax!", which seems, on the face of it, to be a wonderful drift into post-workday ennui. The mood is reminiscent of some of the best The Soundtrack Of Our Lives cuts, and Hancock's soulful vocal at the end is the icing on the musical cake, Lyrically speaking, and I may be reading too much into it, but it also seems to have an oddly dark undercurrent. Therein lies the beauty of these songs - you can, and may, read into them what you will.
Whether by accident or design, this album also seems to have logical pairings of songs. "Cherry Stone Eyes" seems to belong to "We Know How You Feel..." and owes a lot to its own arrangement. Picking the influences is a game that could tie you in knots with this album. I'm probably way off beam but this one sojudns like latter-day Humble Pie (before the coke really cut in.)
You won’t hear "Coleum Versus" played anywhere but community radio and 99 percent of the mainstream media won't be bothered reviewing it, but don’t be happy reading about it. Just buy it.