Emma Donovan and the PutbacksThis bluesy, soulful and highly retro Australian release suggests that, for singers, you are what you hear.

Label: Hope Street Recordings
Time: 9 tracks / 41 mins.

As soon as the disc starts spinning and wah-wah guitar brings in some sweeping Hammond organ, the '60s roots of this disc burst into flower.

These sources are more disparate than they first appear, though, as Emma Donovan – who performed at the opening of the 2004 Olympic Torch relay – grew up with a healthy legacy from previous generations. She would sing church songs with her grandparents in New South Wales, and her first gigs were in a family band, with her mother and five uncles. Her mother sang country, but her father's records included both Australian acts like Archie Roach and American artists like Etta James. It was her father's influences that she yearned to express more and they set the dominant mood in his set.

There is pain in these songs, together with encouragement and a resilient attitude. With a vocal oozing emotion, she convinces that these are her songs, telling her story.

But this is not just the Emma Donovan show. Right across the band, the PutBacks give her a superb backing, never feeling less than solid. While he does not sound confident to solo with abandon, keys player Simon Mavin creates the sound and feel of the late Jon Lord and Booker T. as he takes the spotlight on "Black Woman" and "Over Under Away."

Despite tracks like the superb "Keep me in your Reach" (the only place her country side peeks out) offering lines that might remind you of "Son of a Preacher Man" or the Blues Brothers, this band is not trying to recreate a pasted copy of one part of the past; there are no Muscle Shoals horns, and tracks like "Daddy," with its prominent percussion and strong guitar work, owe more to Santana than to Aretha. The sources are eclectic, absorbed from the days when charts themselves reflected a range of genres.

There is occasional filler ("Come Back to Me" is like a flat track from a classy bar band) but generally the combined artists show highly capable chops, the pairing far stronger than the sum of its parts. "Mother" exudes a languid, soulful groove and the sparse, mesmerising closing track "Over Under Away" is well worth a download.


Derek Walker

{module Possibly Related Articles - Also search our Legacy Site}