Friday, 16 February 2018

Michael Waugh - "The Asphalt and the Oval"

Image Source: The Groove Merchants

Michael Waugh is a rare artist. One that has a unique gift of compelling listeners with taste outside of his genre to sit up and take notice of his music. One that has the gift to be able to write songs to reduce grown men to tears. One who has the ability to tell stories from his own life we can all relate to.

With the release of his second album “The Asphalt and the Oval”, Michael has created another set of songs that tell the stories of those closest to him and those he's met in his many travels. They're told in a way that is universal; told in a way that feels real to everyone listening. These stories have happened to the people he knows, but they've all happened to us too. Some of us were the footy heroes of the school yard, the awkward kid reading under a tree, the struggling farmer trying to compete against big corporations. And even if you weren't any of these, by the end of it you feel a heavy sense of empathy for the predicaments of the characters in the song.

This is also the second album made with Alt.Country artist Shane Nicholson at his studio on the NSW Central Coast. Michael lays down his dexterous guitar playing and plaintive vocals while Shane provides all the instrumental backing, perfectly complimenting but never dominating the songs. Michael never shies away from his natural accent, adding that extra air of authenticity to the music.

Michael writes songs that are compelling not only because the stories are heartfelt and human, but they carry a sting in the tail - when you think you know the direction of the story by the end of the second verse, in the third verse he throws a curveball and turns it all upside down. The new single “Baling Twine” is a classic example. A small family farm inherited by two brothers, who struggle to hold on against automated production complexes moving in around them, the twist in the third verse packs an emotional punch.

This new set of songs tackles some of the same subjects handled on his debut “What We Might Be” but in many cases, he furthers the narratives on “Asphalt”. On his debut we're introduced to his mother on “Heyfield Girl” and some of her struggle is discussed further here in the eloquently titled “Shit Year”. Where the single from his previous album “Paul” deals with bullying as a result of kids being unable to accept difference, this is furthered with a twist on “They Don't Let Girls In The Game”. “The Asphalt and the Oval” also contains heartfelt reflections on fatherhood in “For a Moment” and “Kindergarten Fete”, and some fun reminiscences of being a country teenager in the 1980s in “Acid Wash” and “Driving With The Windows Down". The title track sees Michael reconciling with his past, laying down his grudges towards his school tormentors and celebrating the survivor with a bright future he’s become, and all with his unique brand of country humility.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the album for me is how Michael shines a cold hard spotlight on the nature of masculinity. While this topic is never far from discussion in country music, this time the behaviour of blokes is boldly analysed and examined - not in a judgmental or demeaning way, but not with rose coloured glasses either. The album’s second single “Footy Trip” paints a dark picture of blokes letting off steam on an end of season trip to the big smoke. “Tapping” is a sadly all too familiar tale of barmaids and the overzealous amorous advances by blokes who've had a few too many…

The jewel in the crown is the album’s first single “Little C Word”. How do you write a song about swearing in a way that will get played on radio? The answer is in this cleverly constructed song. And again, the sting is in the tail - watch that curve ball in the third verse.

Golden Guitar-winning country artist Matt Scullion said “It's easy to make people dance [with your music], but it's a lot harder to make them listen. And [Michael] makes them listen.” Michael Waugh is that rare artist - One with something to say, and one who says something that is worth listening to.

"The Asphalt and the Oval" is available now.

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