Singer-songwriter Lachlan Bryan is the frontman of Melbourne Americana outfit The Wildes. His first solo album, Shadow of the Gun, was released during this year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival, and launched at the Family Hotel, where Bryan was supported by … The Wildes. But it’s not a Wildes album – their Ballad of a Young Married Man is an altogether rougher, tougher, dirtier affair (and all of that meant affectionately, for it’s a very good album).
Shadow of the Gun is courtly and mannered in some ways, dark and disturbing in others. Bryan’s rich, strong (but sometimes uncertain) voice calls us closer all the time – closer, closer, closer, until we’re right in the middle of his narrators’ morally compromised, messy worlds. The songs on this album are about what it’s like to be human – how nothing is clear cut and the rules that society imposes are not sufficient to help most of us through life. We have to change them, bend them, and make some of them up as we go along. Even on the uptempo tunes there is still that air of the song’s narrator – not always Bryan, quite often a character – not really being sure about what he’s doing.
The album works as a song cycle, even though none of the sings is linked to another – there is just the sense that they all belong together, in that order. The album progresses from songs mainly in minor keys to a back half that sounds decidedly major. It’s a curious trajectory, mainly because (I realise now) a lot of country albums go out on minor keys.
The ‘earworm’ song for me is ‘Going Straight’, which sounds like a lament and a promise. Other standout tracks are ‘Whistle and Waltz’, which features Kasey Chambers, ‘Lily of the Fields’ and ‘Secret I’ll Take to the Grave’. There are several songs here to tap your toes to, and some that will make you cry.
Bryan has set himself up for success on this album by having Rod McCormack as a producer and Glen Hannah, Jeff McCormack and Bill Chambers playing on the tracks. But all that would come to nothing if the songs weren’t any good and if Bryan himself wasn’t able to match the considerable talents of the other men. They are and he was. Shadow of the Gun is a really wonderful album – one of the best in any genre of Australian music in recent memory. As country/Americana isn’t a highly visible genre in mainstream radio or venues, it may take a bit of time for Bryan to get noticed, but he really deserves to be.
Shadow of the Gun by Lachlan Bryan is out now from Core Music/Sony.