Steve Tyson, Wrong Train, Right Station
By Noel Mengel - Former Chief Music Writer, Courier-Mail
Songwriter Steve Tyson does darkness very well with regret-tinged songs of missed chances and jealous-rage murder tales, but he balances these with songs with a twinkle in the eye or tongue in cheek.
Even when he’s writing about imminent climate catastrophe - see Theatre, one of the key tracks here - he never gets preachy or heavy. Tyson has not had the same profile as other chroniclers of the Australian experience like Shane Howard or John Schumann, but the tracks on this third solo set reveal a master song craftsman with a nuanced lyrical touch and strong melodies.
Tyson is best known for his work with Brisbane folk-rock band Rough Red, but his gruff voice and superb guitar work - he plays every note on this album - suit his songwriting style well. There are some songs from the folk ballad tradition like A Short Life and a Merry One, his telling of the story of the Kelly Gang from the point of view of younger brother Dan. Cavvanbah, the Aboriginal name for what we know today as Byron Bay, imagines a historical tale of lover’s vengeance, while Abacus is the kind of up-tempo folk rock tune that would also suit Rough Red.
The wry and dark humour is never far from the surface, or right there on the surface in If You Die I Swear I’ll Kill You, and the DIY aesthetic gives plenty of room for Tyson’s powerful guitar work.
There is some lovely dobro on The River My Thief, crunchy riff-rock on the road song Three Hundred Miles, evocative electric slide guitar textures on The Ghost and The Fire, and Devil Come Knocking is a garage blues rave-up of the kind Neil Young and band might have cranked up at about sunrise on “Tonight’s The Night”. The Sailor and the Mistress shows Tyson at his poignant best, but there is always plenty of grit in the musical delivery here. Nothing is over-polished, but these are songs that are built to last.