Many moons ago, I remarked to Karl Broadie that it was a great test of an artist if all their songs held up when they had only themselves and a guitar to rely on, and by that test his songs all held up. ‘That’s a nice thing to say to a person,’ he replied.
Karl is no longer around to sing his very fine songs because he moved on to his next plane of existence in April last year. But he left behind a trove of tunes that have now been interpreted by several great Australian country music artists on Leave on a Light. And if these songs had all passed the solo test, they also prove themselves in the hands of this diverse range of singers. The construction of Karl’s songs is so good, the lyrics so right and the sentiments so universal, that it is easy to forget that these songs are not the work of each of the singers – all of them also songwriters – who have made them their own on this album. So that’s an additional test they pass: being written in such a way that another artist can feel them so truly that the song sounds like it belongs to her or him.
Having said that, it is still a little strange to hear Amali Ward sing ‘Chamomile Days’, for example – except that she sings it so beautifully that this version should be equally as cherished as Karl’s own. Kasey Chambers finds shadows inside ‘Leave on a Light’ that weren’t on Karl’s original – or maybe they were and Kasey just listened more closely than others. Amber Lawrence’s ‘Country Bound’ is less jaunty than Karl’s original but she has connected with the lyrics in her own way and that, too, is true to Karl’s work.
There’s a live version of ‘Long, Long Way’ sung by Harry Hookey at a tribute concert held for Karl not long before he died, and one of Karl’s last songs, ‘Hope is a Thief’, is sung by his close friend Micky Blue Eyes (who was also responsible for the creation of this album) and Kasey Chambers. Shane Nicholson takes on ‘Once in Your Life’ and Jasmine Rae gives ‘If He Calls’ the pathos it deserves to have on this particular album. Felicity Urquhart delivers ‘Tears’ with all the poignancy of Karl’s original. Also on the album: Dianna Corcoran, Kevin Bennett and The Flood, Michael Carpenter, Katie Brianna & Caitlin Harnett, Den Hanrahan & Adam Young, Aleyce Simmonds, Catherine Britt, Craig Johnston & John Kendall, Alex Ryan & Danny Widdicombe, Brett Hunt and Luke O’Shea.
The way these nineteen songs have been interpreted and the very musical range shown within the songs is the only evidence we should need that Karl Broadie was one of the most diverse, vibrant and effective songwriters in Australia. Karl did bittersweetness better than anybody and it is so incredibly bittersweet that he is not around to hear this work. But it is my hope that those who weren’t familiar with Karl’s work before this will seek out his albums – there are many more songs to discover. As an introduction, however, and as a tribute, Leave on a Light has clearly been very carefully curated and created with the abundance of love and admiration that Karl inspired during his life. It is a credit to Karl and to every single artist who appears on it.
You can buy Leave on a Light on iTunes.