In recent years Freya Josephine Hollick has been a name claiming special attention for her impressive singing and writing. Aware of this growing reputation, I bought this album out of a bit of curiosity and to hear what Shane Reilly was up to, as he's one of the most gifted musicians working in roots music at present. Certainly, I wasn't prepared for something as assured, sophisticated and inspired as Feral Fusion. The title suggests an amalgam of non-mainstream styles and it is certainly that. The list of performers in the dedication "to the people who made the music that inspired this album" is as eclectic as it is accurate. The cover art is a collage of seemingly disparate images; a bit of Bosch here, some movie and documentary stills there, with the singer confidently riding an angry giant Serval the central focus. However, there's nothing ad hoc about this record, no melding for melding's sake. Hollick's writing and singing are of
apiece allowing her voice to inhabit her beautiful melodies, Killer titles such as 'On A Mission To Kill All The Hatred In Man', Jesus Hates It When You Smoke', 'Breakfast Of Smalltown Champions' and Vapour Of A Man' show an artist with a keen sense of humour, and the wry lyrical observations within these songs share something well beyond the sometimes overtly worthy tone adopted by many roots performers. Hollick and producer Roger Bergodaz have assembled a range of players to realise the breadth of these songs. The choice of Sam Lemann as accompanist on the acoustic tracks is inspired. His faultless technique and phrasing accentuates Hollick's vocal, maintaining the intimacy of her songs. Elsewhere, Thomas Brooks and Jacob McGuffie provide assured and sympathetic guitar parts - the shimmering reverb reverie that concludes 'Like A Dog Upon A Bone' is a delight - while Ben Franz adds his double bass and pedal steel. Bergodaz doubles on drums and bass for all but one song, providing rhythmic cohesion on all tracks. A push pull tracking approach paces the collection: a few band tracks - both orchestrated and guitar centric, then a vocal and acoustic guitar duo piece. A determinedly old school approach in the age of Spotify and evidence that this is something meant to be played from beginning to end. Opening song and first single 'Mister One Time' points a mockingly damning finger at a certain kind of opportunistic would-be lothario, while the second, 'The Devil You Know' is a poignant meditation on single motherhood. 'On A Mission To Kill All The Hatred in Man' contemplates the infinite with delicacy and wit, yet avoids anything awkward through Reilly's mischievous and inspired Gos hyper country politan arrangement with its string and pedal steel interplay. Indeed, his guitar - standard and baritone, orchestrations and deeply sensitive pedal steel are highlights throughout the album.
The centrepiece of the record is 'Love Lingers On', a ballad so sweeping and timeless that it seems to exist in its own universe. Reilly and Bergodaz build an arrangement worthy of all the great hanky weepies; yet locate it somewhere between plaintive Willie Nelson or Loretta Lynn and a sort of 60's sci-fi kookiness, without losing its contemporary authority. Listen for Reilly's muted guitar chords, vibes and pedal steel and you hear something Richard Hawley might conjure while Hollick reflects on lost love as something elemental yet transcendent and eternal with imagery evoking the mysteries of nature. The Romantic poets used to rabbit on about the sublime; when Hollick sings the word you feel that something perfect yet perfectly incommunicable has somehow been delivered. My record collection sometimes seems to groan under the weight of melancholy ballads. This year alone John Prine has given us 'Summer's End', Willie Nelson 'Something You Get Through', Ry Cooder 'Harbor Of Love' and The Milk Carton Kids an entire broken-hearted album, All The Things I Did And All The Things I Didn't Do. And that's just a few blokes, Add to these Love Lingers On.
The remaining songs are no less assured; deft lyric details, lilting melodies sympathetic arrangements and superb playing are the cornerstones. It is a credit to the dedication of the players and producer that a recording made with a modest budget can sound so rich and rewarding. However, while the arrangements and playing are significant the focus is certainly on Hollick. Having absorbed such a range of old time and contemporary vocal approaches she has developed an instrument that, with seeming effortlessness, coaxes power and melodic nuances from her wellcrafted material. All her lyrics align with her melodies; Stray syllables aren't allowed, yet the relaxed confidence of her delivery belies the discipline required to realise such affective songwriting. These are very Strong songs, the equal of any released by artists with much higher profiles. The roots, Americana, alt-country, call-it-what-you-will label is a sort of outpost in Australia. Artists here often fight against mainstream indifference, nevertheless creating music for loyal, if small audiences. In other parts of the world it holds a significant demographic; festivals abound with many acts making a noise as they lob their work into the mainstream. Freya Josephine Hollick has just received a significant grant from Creative Victoria to enable her to develop and expand her recording opportunities. A nomination from National Live Music Awards for best live country artist of the year, a gong voted on by fellow musicians, media, venues and bookers, shows that her songs and recordings are part of a whole artist package. The 'real deal' cliché is thrown around so much that it might as well be selling toothpaste. However, the evidence in this record has nothing to do with tedious cliché of course, it's a signpost to an artist growing at such a pace that Hollick will surely surpass her already shining reputation.
Ballarat’s Freya Josephine Hollick could be describing her own voice in the opening cut on her second album: “As pure as driven snow, as sweet as honeydew, as high as a soaring eagle, as deep as the blackest ocean.”
This is an album of glorious simplicity – no easy thing to pull off. Recorded by Myles Mumford live at Ballarat’s Main Bar, there are no tricks or gimmicks on show. With wonderful economy of language and playing, Hollick’s voice and guitar are augmented only by Kat Mear’s violin and Pete Fidler’s Dobro and mandolin. Hollick is a young woman with an old soul, singing traditional bluegrass and country, “with all sweetness of time gone”. “Sing them a saccharine tune,” she states, though she never descends to sugary schmaltz. Elsewhere, she ponders: “Why does a sweet girl turn to a life of sin?” Water is a recurring motif, with Hollick singing of its redemptive powers as well as the potential dangers lurking within. “A man is the water,” she sings, “coursin’ down the stream.” Love and loss, sweetness and sin... The Unceremonious Junking Of Me has it all.
The Unceremonious Junking Of Me is out now via Heart Of The Rat Records.
The Unceremonious Junking of Me - Heart of the Rat Records - FOLK/COUNTRY
Born of a fractured and unsalvageable relationship, yet blessed by the birth of a child, Freya Josephine Hollick's second album is a deep emotional record that sounds at times desperate and fragile, yet often also defiant and optimistic.
The album dials into a sound of pure, unadorned folk and lonesome country music. With just three players and pretty much recorded live to tape in Hollick's hometown of Ballarat, VIC, there is a sense of connection straight to the core of the songs as she sings of pain and heartache. Timeless themes indeed, yet here they are suitably framed in traditional instrumentation and steeped in old-timey atmosphere, the history of folk and blues emanating from the deeply personal songs.
Hollick's voice is the perfect vessel to accompany the music. A soulful warble and gentle twang inhabit her sweet melodies that sing of dark times and for all the weight of the stories on this highly accomplished album it ends up feeling like a strangely comforting listening experience.
Freya Hollick climbed onstage and continued to spruik the Rat’s wares. Hollick’s vibrato and striking feminine tone was captivating, and despite the Dolly Parton comparisons, she possessed an entirely unique presence, clad in a tan suede-like suit, guitar in hand, backed by her violin player, the uber talented Kat Mear. Hollick finished the show to a standing ovation, with yodeling and an otherworldly lightness to her powerful voice.
FOUR STARS ****
At first pass, the Melbourne-based country practitioner's new album feels purpose-built for nostalgia, shaped by the bones of bygone artists and couched in a rustic delivery, but Hollick ultimately follows her own reflective journey.
Sprawling and simple, Hollick's tales shine above the sparsity of instrumentation. The decision to capture the tracks live in Ballarat's Main Bar brings a raw sense of place to the album and highlights the vital intimacy of the vocals. Darkly saccharine, painful and poignant, The Unceremonious Junking Of Me is a rich and textured release that reshapes the landscape of country to suit itself.
HERALD SUN - LIFESTYLE
Freya Josephine Hollick stopped us industry types gasbagging with her Nashville meets Nagambie odes to difficult love. She is a “Vintage Victorian and Old World Songbird” and can even yodel. After Freya’s band ripped through a bunch of well-received, transportive songs she went full Bodyguard and sang I Will Always Love You, hitting that high note in the coda. Standing ovation? You betcha, Kevin Costner. Respect to Dolly Parton.
'As a music journalist for nearly 30 years, writing almost exclusively about Australian music, I have heard hundreds of Australian singers and songwriters. Many of them are good, some are very good, but only a few are truly special – and I put Freya Josephine Hollick in that category.' - Jeff Jenkins (The Music, RRR, ABC, STACK magazine)
'I invited Freya to be one of my very special guests on my all live radio program Grand Ole Twang at RRR in front of a live audience. Amongst the local and international guests, she was the outstanding highlight of the show. Freya is a revivalist of folk and country music of times gone by. A mesmerising performer with her unique old style singing and proficient songwriting, she always surrounds herself with the most outstanding local musicians. She is an exceptional talent... Artists like her don’t come along very often.' - Denise Hylands (RRR)