Over the past decade or so, soul music has seen an incredible resurgence in popularity, and in fact, much like EDM and hip-hop, soul music is essentially part of a musical lingua franca. Indeed, soul music, much like it’s modern forebears has a tendency to transcend cultural, racial, classist, gender and international lines. Granted, every city and region across the world has its own peculiar sound. After all, you wouldn’t expect a Chicago soul act to sound like a band from a soul act from Baton Rouge; nor would you expect an Australian or French soul band to sound exactly alike either; however, the themes of struggling to survive with your dignity intact; of falling in and out of love; of being betrayed and mistreated are universal and timeless.
Even if you were completely unaware of this site’s increasing international focus over the past year to 18 months or so, there would be some things that you, dear reader, would be aware of and would have been aware of for some time – that is unless you had lived in a cave for the past 30 years. In particular, you’d probably know of at least five or six bands that have hailed from Australia. So you’d know that Australia has a vital music scene, although odds are that the bands would likely be – a rock band or a electronica act, and that they’d likely be white. And perhaps in some way that makes Australian aboriginal singer/songwriter Emma Donovan so deeply intriguing to me …
But let’s go through some necessary background: Like a lot of soul singers, Donovan grew up singing in her maternal grandparents’s church in New South Wales. Her first secular vocal gigs were with the Donovans, a band that was comprised of Emma’s mother and her five uncles. And with the Donovans, Emma sang and played country; however, she was deeply drawn to her father’s old blues and soul records.
Years later, Emma Donovan had been touring and recording with several of Australia’s indigenous music mainstays while developing as a solo artist, when she had met the members of her future backing band, The Put Backs. They bonded over their mutual love of old school, American blues and soul and started crating the blues and soul infused sound that Donovan had longed to create for most of her life.
“Daddy,” the first single off the Emma Donovan and The Put Backs’ latest album, Dawn is immediately recognizable as part of the great soul revival; however, unlike most of the contemporary focus on the soul sound of the 60s, “Daddy” to my ears takes it cues sonically from the conscious and psychedelic soul of the 70s – i.e., think of Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Parliament Funkadelic and others. And much like the work of those artists, the sound and lyrics are bolstered in a similar gritty realism – in other words songs about grief, struggle and redemption, even if small.
Interestingly, the album was recorded in a similar fashion to the old soul records of the 60s and 70s recorded live to analog tape and it gives a song like “Daddy,” a deeply period specific sound and yet it’s extraordinarily contemporary.