“Sunnyholt” 4 ½ Stars
Perry Keyes’ fourth long-player is an ambitious concept piece about an extended family fighting for a decent life (and sometimes survival) in the working-class western suburbs of Sydney.
The first of a two-album series (with follow-up The Great Western Highway due later this year), it’s a collection of songs dense in rich Australian imagery and insight, the beautifully painted scenarios portraying a grim picture of a tough life where hope reigns eternal.
The music is sparse and subdued for the most part, setting the moods well to complement the narratives, but it’s Keyes’ lyrics that dominate proceedings. When he rasps, “You don’t deserve this tobacco-soaked kiss” (Home Is Where The Heart Disease Is), it’s as effortlessly emotive as the great masters (Dylan, The Boss, Kelly et al). It’s the intricacies of detail that give the songs their considerable heft, and while it’s typically Sydney-centric in scope, for every mention of Martin Place, Harry’s Café de Wheels, Strathfield or Botany Bay there’s a reference to ANZAC Day, Archie Roach, $5 steaks, Sunnyboys and ODIs to make it ultimately inclusive.
Drug references abound (but desperate rather than glamorous) and there’s a lot of personal torment invested in these blue-collar montages – whether they be tales of dead-end jobs (Mario Milano’s Monaro), crime and punishment (Raymond John Denning) or people completely on the skids (The Abattoir Sky) each character is viewed through an empathic lens that begs for understanding. Powerful stuff.