Many are calling for greater diversity in country music, and that’s certainly an important cause. But gender and ethnicity shouldn’t be the only concern when trying to increase the quality and representation in the genre. Too often the American music market overlooks the high caliber country music coming from different continents. And no, we’re not talking about Keith Urban. The strength of diversity comes from the unique perspectives artists can bring to the music, and the appeal they sow among new segments of the population.
Australia has long been an overlooked enclave for quality country, and not just counting the artists who make a concerted effort to court the American market. Down Under is a great place to go rummaging around to find something new and fresh, with plenty of open landscapes and rugged characters ripe for inspiring country songs no different than in the States.
Granted, Sydney where Australian singer and songwriter Arna Georgia is from isn’t exactly The Outback, but as she proves on her official debut album Yes Girl, she has the grit and talent to sing, write, and perform country music in its true form with the best of them from any port of call. Full of heartbreaking tales that are often autobiographical, it’s exactly what you’re looking for, even if it comes from an unexpected place.
From the first crack of the steel guitar on the opening song “Just Passing Through,” you’re sucked in and attentive to what Arna Georgia has to offer, which isn’t on par with much of the country music in America, it’s portions better. Loyal to the traditional modes of country and roots, but not inauthentic to herself from trying too hard to sing in some twangy Southern voice like some painstakingly do, Arna makes a name for herself and an expression all her own by bringing in bits and pieces of other associated roots genres to compliment her country sound.
Yes Girl is Arna’s young adult life set to music—reminiscent, honest, forthright about her insecurities, and cautiously hopeful for the future. Cuttingly personal and achingly slow songs like “Blues on a City Street,” and especially the devastating “Truth” really set the hook for a deep appreciation in what this Aussie brings the the art form. Even when the music is a bit more upbeat like in “1998 (Catching Up To Do)” and “Story For The Kids,” the personal nature of the songs is palpable and poetically rendered.
Arna Georgia’s resume comes with all sorts of accomplishments in higher education involving music and theater in Australia. She has a bachelor degree in music, and is a graduate of the CMAA Academy of Country Music—an elite Australian music program. But where these things sometimes spoil the authenticity in roots music, Arna keeps it all stark, real, country, and cool. Maybe one of the best songs of the set is the haunting “Missing Rose” told from the perspective of the sister of a missing woman. The specificity and use of point-of-view really shows an advanced level of songcraft.
Maybe a bit too much variety keeps Arna Georgia from forging a definitive sound for herself on Yes Girl, but it also keeps things spicy throughout. When she brings in the high set Celtic-style flute in “All My Married Friends” and pairs it with fiddle and mandolin, it turns what could have been a honky tonker from the writing into a spirited pub singalong. A cover of Delbert McClinton’s overcovered “Two More Bottles of Wine” might be too obvious for the American audience, but to the Australian one, it might be many people’s first time hearing it, and Arna compliments the song quite well.
Produced by Nash Chambers—who is the son of well-known Australian country artist Bill Chambers, and the brother even better-known country artist Kasey Chambers who’s had quite a successful career in the States—Arna Georgia makes a strong push to be regarded as one of the new generation of Australian country performers that help keep the American ones on their toes, and everyone well-entertained.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)