Sydney singer-songwriter is one half of Dear Orphans, although he’s going it alone on this album, his debut long player. The album is divided into halves: ‘Salvation Jane’ and ‘Paterson’s Curse’ – which are, of course, different names for the same thing: a bush – all right, a weed – that grows wild and produces vibrant purple flowers, seen across the Australian landscape. It’s fitting for this album of road songs which evoke the Australian experience of hours in a car, kilometres of land that can look like dust, skies that promise no rain as they stretch unendingly away. Payne’s songs also evoke the people he has met along the way, whether they are friends or strangers.
Payne’s genre is cited as bluegrass and Americana, but there’s a bit of Slim Dusty here too – it’s impossible to ignore Slim and his wife/chief songwriter Joy McKean’s influence on the Australian road song. In some ways Slim gave Australian songwriters permission to document their experiences of travelling around the land – permission, in other words, to not be American. So while Payne may have stylistic influences from the northern hemisphere, this is firmly a southern hemisphere album.
Payne is ably backed by some great musicians and the songs vary in pace and style as befits the song. Payne has help from Katie Brianna on ‘My Darling Kate’ and Megan Cooper on ‘Peace Tonight’, and both singers complement him nicely. ‘Old Sydney Town’ sounds like it belongs in the early days of the colony. ‘White Line Fever’ moves at the sort of pace you’d want to keep you going on a road trip.
Overall, this is a great piece not of Americana but, dare I say, Australiana.
Rise Up Like a River is out now.