Let me take you back more than a quarter of a century, and a time when I had just released the tenth issue of Feedback under my editorship. In there I reviewed the debut solo album by a young singer-songwriter who had already made some waves in the progressive world for working with Fish, both live and on ‘Internal Exile’. That album was ‘The Pictures Within’, the artist was Maryen Cairns, and I finished the review with “if you only buy one female singer-songwriter album this year, then it should be this one”. I had been sent the album by the label, so never knew Maryen, yet through circumstances we are now in contact. That review was compiled into Volume 1 of my series of books and was seen by Tracy Hitchings who is a friend of Maryen’s. She sent a copy to her, and now here I am listening to Maryen’s music for the first time in a very long time indeed.
We all change over time, and hearing this album from 2016, recorded 24 years on from the debut was quite a surprise as I didn’t know what to expect, and I don’t think this was it. This is music heavily influenced by world and folk, with a strong message, and I found myself thinking of Australian/English duo Mundy-Turner. It isn’t often that an album takes the listener straight to Google, but I can guarantee that is what people will be doing when they come across this, as Maryen has produced an hour-long album telling stories about strong women from Australia who most of us will have never heard of. I was particularly taken by the story of Granny Lum Loy from Darwin who seems to have been an amazing woman, yet this is the first time I have come across her. Another character which intrigued me was Kate Kelly, and listening to the lyrics made me question what I had heard about her elder brother Ned, so again I did some research and have come away with a quite different view of him and what I knew of the story. I also enjoyed hearing about Joyce Barry and her struggles to be the first female tram driver.
The album is like a history lesson put to music, and I haven’t come across anything quite like this before. There are a few instances where Maryen puts words ahead of the song itself, but overall it is an incredible piece of work, and “Welcome To Country” in particular is incredibly infectious and easy to sing along with. This is the work of an artist who has matured and changed over the years. I have yet to come across any of her albums prior to this, but they are all available from CD Baby (including ‘The Pictures Within’, which must have been reissued as the cover has changed), or from her own site where it is also possible to download a free EP or stream her music. Folk, roots, world, Australian country, singer-songwriter, just great music. This album is available with a book which contains not only all the lyrics but the story behind each song.