Anyone who has seen Adam Harvey perform live, in his own show or with others – such as Troy Cassar-Daley, when they were doing shows for their Great Country Songbook – will be aware that he’s one of the great entertainers of Australian country music. There’s always a laugh to be had at Harvey’s show, and there’s also the joy of seeing him enjoy himself so much playing live. The laughter and the joy are both present on his latest, and nineteenth, studio album, Songs from Highway One. There’s also plenty of reflection and emotion.
The opening song, ‘Highway Number One’, sets the theme of many of the album’s songs: we’re travelling with Harvey to several parts of Australia. We’re also travelling through experiences. The rollicking second track, ‘Ramblin’ Fever’, on which Lee Kernaghan appears, is almost a misdirection because by track three we arrive at ‘Lindeman Fever’, a memorable song about Harvey’s father, written with Harvey’s longtime collaborator Graeme Connors. This track leads us into a sweep of songs about places that mean a lot to Harvey – ‘Darwin Nights’, ‘Red Dust Town’ – and the people who mean the most to him as well, as shown on ’16 Summers’, a song about his children growing up. While there is a bit of looking back on this album, as in ‘Take Me Back’, it’s not mawkish – Harvey is considerate enough of his audience to know that what means a great deal to him won’t necessarily mean as much to others, so there’s no point dwelling. The nostalgia that’s present on this album is in just the right dose needed to tell the story, then we move on.
The balance of entertainment and storytelling is something that Harvey has perfected alongside performers such as Beccy Cole, so it’s only right that Cole – with whom he’s also toured – makes an appearance on ‘Better With Time’, which also features Darren Coggan and Felicity Urquhart. (Some of us were lucky to see the four in concert in 2019 as they reunited after their Young Stars of Country tour twenty years prior, and if they ever decide to record an album together it will be a happy day in country music heaven.) The late Slim Dusty appears on Harvey’s cover of Joy McKean’s ‘Angel of Goulburn Hill’, with McKean’s blessing.
Those who like their country music tending towards the alt/Americana variety probably don’t listen to Harvey’s albums, and that’s fine, of course – everyone has their own taste. But Songs from Highway One shows why he’s so well loved amongst Australian country music fans: these songs are tightly constructed, sung with just the right balance to convey their meaning, and Harvey doesn’t linger too long on anything. He’s moving on, as the theme of the album suggests, to the next place and the next experience, and he’s taking us along with him. So if you haven’t listened to him before, this album is a wonderful set of stories to spend time with, and there’s no doubt you’ll go back and listen to those stories again, because like all great artists he knows how to deliver a song so that there are always more details to discover with repeated listening. He has not, after all, won eight Golden Guitars for nothing.