Cannot Buy My Soul: Music industry tribute to Kev Carmody

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Kev Carmody

Cannot Buy My Soul is a tribute album, paying homage to singer and songwriter, Kev Carmody. The album, produced by Paul Kelly, is musically brilliant and will bring the gutsy songs of Carmody to a whole new audience. Describing the project, Carmody said: “this is the old folk tradition where old songs and stories are redefined in new, creative and imaginative styles for a whole new generation of people.”

The package, comprised of two CDs, has stunning cover artwork. The first disk brings together some of the finest contemporary musicians, performing 16 classic Carmody songs. The second contains the original versions recorded by Carmody between 1988 and 2000.

I’ve been a fan of Carmody’s work since he released his first album, Pillars of Society. Those who eagerly snap up each new release from Carmody, and those discovering his work for the first time, will find the new offering equally pleasing.

In 1988, thousands of Indigenous people and their supporters converged on Sydney to protest against glitzy nationalist celebrations marking the bicentennial of Australia’s invasion. This was the year Carmody recorded Thou Shalt Not Steal. “In 1788 down Sydney Cove, The first boat people land, Said sorry boys our gain’s your loss, We’re gonna steal your land, And if you break our new British laws, For sure, you’re gonna hang, Or work your life like convicts, With chains on your neck and hands.” The original version had a raw energy. The contemporary offering by eclectic roots and jam band, John Butler Trio, is more melodic, but just as powerful.

Another classic from Pillars of Society to get a 21st century makeover is “Comrade Jesus Christ.” Carmody’s original, performed as a poem, lampoons the hypocrites of the modern Church who fail to stand with the poor and oppressed. I can listen over and over to the treatment by The Herd, a hip-hop outfit from the suburbs of Sydney. The funky music encourages the listener to exercise the body. The vocals, chanted by male and female artists, compel the listener to exercise the mind. Renowned for performing songs with political lyrics, The Herd add some punchy lyrics of their own: “he’d fight against the racist hordes, whether it be out on the streets of Cronulla, behind the boardroom doors or parliament floors, from skinheads with flags to One Nation, and those talkback radio stations.”

Carmody, who grew up on a cattle station in Queensland, now performs all around the world. His father was Irish and his mother Murri. Carmody draws on the storytelling traditions from both his Aboriginal and Irish heritage. His other albums include Eulogy, Bloodlines and Images and Illusions.

Carmody singly authored all of the tracks on the compilation album, with the exception of two, which he wrote jointly with Paul Kelly. From Little Things Big Things Grow, authored with Kelly, is Carmody’s best known song. This anthem tells the story of Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji people who walked off Vestey’s cattle station at Wattie Creek, sparking the land rights movement. The Waifs, a folk rock band from West Australia, perform this frequently covered song. Their version is sweet and melodic.

The evocative This Land is Mine, also co-written with Kelly, was the soundtrack of the 2001 film, One Night The Moon. The film, a tragic tale of how blinkered racism results in the death of a white child, is set on an outback property in 1932. A duet between the black tracker and the settler explores complex relationships to the land. “This land is mine,” sings the settler, struggling to stop the bank repossessing it. “This land is me,” sings the tracker. Dan Sultan and Scott Wilson perform the duet. An understated guitar soundtrack lets the haunting vocal shine out. Sultan, a 22-year-old from Melbourne, won the 2006 Deadly Award for the most promising new talent.

At least two of the tracks are musical contributions to the ongoing struggle to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody. The Young Dancer is Dead, by sassy hip-hop trio, The Last Kinection, remembers Daniel Yock, an 18-yearold dancer who died in Queensland police custody in 1983.

The Drones’ version of River of Tears retains all the anger of Carmody’s original, while conveying an eerie feeling. This song rages against the treatment of David Gundy, a 29-year-old Aboriginal man killed in 1989 when a police shotgun discharged in his bedroom during an unlawful police raid on his home in Marrickville. The NSW police had no legal right to even be in his home. “Terrorists dressed in uniform, under the protection of their law. You’re not safe out there on freedom street, you’re not safe inside the‘ can.’” The ongoing Aboriginal deaths in custody continue to motivate musicians, both Black and white, to sing out against injustice.

Cannot Buy My Soul is a powerful symbol of the respect Carmody has won in the Australian music business. The title track is a spine-tingling contribution by Archie Roach. The Pigram Brothers, an Indigenous country rock band from Broome, perform Eulogy for a Black Man. Darkside, the tale of Logan City kids who hang out “in that trashed-out Rooster ’n Ribs” south of the freeway, performed by Tex Perkins, retains the bleak mood that institutional poverty and oppression brings. Other well-known musicians
who contributed include Missy Higgins, Bernard Fanning from Powderfinger and Troy Cassar-Daley.

Kev Carmody is an extraordinary talent. Cannot Buy My Soul, with its edgy 21st century sounds, will help him win a whole new audience, which his work richly deserves.

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