Audio Mixers: Rob Miller; Jon Langford ; Blaise Barton.
Recording information: Enrec; Tamworth NSW; WallySound, Oakland, CA.
Photographers: Jon Langford ; Nicolette Dixon.
Australia has long had its own country music tradition, and while it certainly drew from and sounds (on the surface, at least) like American country music, with the same instrumentation and many of the same themes, it is its own thing, the country pop approach of Keith Urban aside. The Johnny Cash of Australian country would have to be Roger Knox, born a Gamilaroi man, raised in the Toomelah Aboriginal Mission near Boggabilla, and known in Australia and New Zealand as the Black Elvis and the Koori King of Country. This set for Bloodshot Records, which pairs Knox with Chicago's Pine Valley Cosmonauts, finds Knox honoring the many fine Aboriginal country songwriters of his homeland, and the irony might well be that while the country music scene in America is just about the whitest around, in Australia it just might be the blackest. The themes and the aims are the same, though, and this record is unmistakably traditional country no matter how one chooses to define the genre, with the song and the narrative it tells always at the center of things. Among the many highlights on this quietly stirring album are Knox's versions of Dougie Young's "The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards," Harry Williams' "Blue Gums Calling Me Home" (which almost sounds like it could have been on the Byrds' groundbreaking Sweetheart of the Rodeo album), and Joan Fairbridge's classic train song "Ticket to Nowhere," although each of the dozen tracks here has a somber and emotional grace. The Cosmonauts accompany Knox with a sparse precision that lets each song remain at center stage, which is what traditional country has always been about, no matter what continent it's coming from. Both a revelation and a fine album in a style that seems timeless, Stranger in My Land should, in a fair and equitable world, bring Knox an appreciative audience in America, and it may well illustrate how much American country music has lost and left behind in its brazen pursuit of the pop charts. ~ Steve Leggett