HEART OF TOWN celebrates Penny & Roger’s 25th Year of Harmony. They have always shared a love of folk music and have been writing songs and performing together since 1980 when they began recording their first album in their living room in Balmain, NSW. They went on to record two more of their own albums before moving to Stanthorpe, Queensland, in 1987 and building a studio in their old Queenslander overlooking Storm King Dam.
CD review by Tony Smith
This 2001 album of 19 tracks from Restless Music is timeless. The voices are clear and express the sentiments of the songs beautifully.
Penny Davies and Roger Ilott have always displayed great skill in selecting music which showcases sincerity and earthiness. Heart of Town is more about the heart than about the town, as most songs are rooted firmly in the bush experience.
While most of these pieces are originals by Davies and Ilott, individually or in collaboration, there are songs with either lyrics and/or music by Ted Egan, ‘The Maree Line’, Gordon Bok ‘The Brandy Tree’, Bill Scott ‘On Top of High Peak’, Sandy Denny ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’, Max Fatchen ‘Call it Flamin’ Hot!’ and Mavis Scott ‘Turn Again’.
As always Davies and Ilott use harmonies that are natural but subtle. While occasionally some keyboard or percussion are used in the backing, mostly guitars and mandolin complement the voices very well. The electric guitar embellishes the melodies and the riffs which are heard on the final tracks, ‘Ups and Downs’ and ‘The Southern Cross’, perhaps could be used more generously on some earlier tracks.
There is humour here in ‘Call It Flamin’ Hot!, verse made into song by Ilott, and Bill Scott and Ilott’s complaint ‘The GST Calypso’. There is also poignancy in ‘The Maree Line’ and in ‘Old Nugget’.
Ted Egan’s song tells the story of the daughter of Afghan traders and a squatter’s son kept apart because their parents apparently knew best.
Davies and Ilott took the story of Old Nugget, told by Kathleen Bradley of Ballandean, and expresses her pain on separating from the horse she rode to school until Old Nugget was requisitioned for the 1915 war effort.
There is also political activism in ‘Don’t Let ‘em Close Our Mill’.
Meanwhile Bill Scott reminisces about a Caboolture childhood and Ilott celebrates the joys of recreational fishing in ‘A Fisherman Bold’.
Overall, the theme of the songs is relationships.
Ilott and Davies celebrate the ups and downs of a long life together in ‘Whenever You Come My Way’, ‘If I Could’, ‘The Lighthouse’, ‘Here and Now’ and ‘We’ll Meet On the Shore’. Ilott also contributes a rare journey into the paradoxes of being male and wanting to express love for those around.
The sleeve notes are concise and informative.
The only complaint I can make about them is that they do not always specify the backing musicians, and the reader must look at two song lists to discover whether Ilott or Davies arranged a particular piece.
Overall, this album provides 72 minutes of enjoyable listening. Roger Ilott and Penny Davies are a remarkable musical team. Between them they have a great ear for a story that needs telling and an outstanding skill for bringing those stories to life.
Heart Of Town is a CD full of heart and musicians cannot fake that quality.