We Make The Music - Leadfinger (Impedance)
The portents were there that it was going to be a very good album but Leadfinger's "We Make The Music" makes a convincing claim for greatness in the space of 49 minutes. From the Who-like title track that opens it to the Hendrix-tinged finale, "Beside Me, Against Me" (with its shades of "Castles in the Air") this is a bona fide Australian classic.
Over two prior albums and an EP, Leadfinger (the band) has established a secure identity. It's still a vehicle for the songs, vocals and guitarwork of Stewart "Leadfinger" Cunningham but the latest line-up has solidified and grown with the benefit of some solid if not overly frequent touring. Leadfinger is confident bluesy rock with a few surprises, and steers well clear of being pigeon-holed as another variation on Detroit ramalama (although the same energy levels are present.)
Glasgow-born, Wollongong-reared Cunningham cut his teeth in Proton Energy Pills, a forerunner of a wave of bands from the industrial city south of Sydney. He went on to knock around with Asteroid B612, kick 'em out with power trio Brother Brick, survive The Yes-Men and have a ball with the Replacements-inspired Challenger 7, so he's done the yards. Leadfinger began after a lay-off from music, originally manifesting as a low-key and moody blues outfit but slowly morphing into a rock band. A couple of line-ups later, here they are with mid-'70s British rock influences mixing it with some understated pop hooks and some less obvious inspirations from closer to home.
Cunningham's always been an inspired songwriter but there's more depth to his work over the last 10 years. Cases-in-point are the lyrical self cross-examination of "No Reflection" and the childhood glance-over-the-shoulder of "Fourteen." Musically, this album shows he's even less afraid these days to mix things up with dobro, mandolin and 12-string mixing it with power chords and riffs.
Leadfinger's guitar-playing is as fiery as ever - especially on rockers like the promotional track "The Price You Pay" - and sits well with the playing of six-string partner Michael Boyle. Lyrically, the song's a backtracking throiugh the obituaries and war stories of Stew's past bandmates, some fallen but others still stabnding. It's as honest a song as you'll hear in a month of Sundays and played with a blazing fury. If you don't believe me, download it for free here.
Fans of sustain might want to check out the outro of "No Reflection" but there's also a subtlety in "Untitled" that shows a band familiar with all the right places to leave spaces.
"Eucalyptus Blues" picks up where "Exile On Main Street" left off, trading sparse licks and handclaps for powerful dynamics . The brooding "Anthem For The Unimpressed" would sit comfortably on a New Christs record ("I don't care what the fuck you do to me") so it's no surprise to see that band's guitarist-keyboardist Brent Williams credited as one of the people involved in the recording process.
He might have coined the term if not invented the genre but if Pete Townsend still recorded powerpop songs like "We Make The Music", the world would be a much better place.
Vocally, Cunningham saves his best for last with a sterling performance on ""Beside Me, Against Me." Stew's production is translucent and powerful and some credit's probably due also to Big Jesus Burger Studio, one of Sydney's best recording rooms.
Fans of his earlier stuff will take to it with relish but it will win converts as well. Plonk down your heard-earned. This is worth it.