Longing is something most of us experience but it’s not often given that name. We miss, we want, we desire, we lack. What we rarely admit to – perhaps because we can’t identify the emotion given that we rarely speak its name – is longing. And if we can’t name it, we can’t describe it either.
Sydney singer-songwriter Sam Newton knows how to describe and depict longing: the opening tracks of his new album, Violet Road, are laced with it. Newton sounds as if he is longing for an experience that is perhaps recently or distantly past, one that’s lingering within him. And along with that longing is its close companion, yearning. Both of these states of being can seem overly earnest – even twee, perhaps – but Newton is not sentimental, and, therefore, the emotions in his music are authentic and appropriate, and they never last longer than necessary. This suggests that Newton has a very good grasp of the concept of restraint. He doesn’t indulge himself – the song contains what it needs to, and no more. Which is not to say that the songs on Violet Road are sparse: they are lean where they should be, and at other times they’re fleshed out with some wonderful steel guitar or fiddle.
Nor is the album a collection of tunes in a minor key – because Newton understands what a song needs, the musical mood always fits what’s in the lyrics. The musical style is country and folk, and often traditional in nature. These are songs that belong in a lineage; they wouldn’t sound out of place on a town hall stage somewhere in a country town in 1950, yet there are also elements that are purely contemporary: at times it’s not hard to imagine Newton standing on a suburban Sydney footpath, under a crescent moon, serenading the sky and whoever happens to pass him by. These are evocative songs that seem simple in construction yet come with layers of meaning. And if Newton knows how to put longing into his songs, he also knows how to leave you longing for them in turn.