John O’Donnell on the 2020 update of a Kev Carmody tribute album
EMI Music Australia has dropped an update of Cannot Buy My Soul, the remarkable 2007 celebration of fiery Brisbane First Nations singer-songwriter Kev Carmody.
The original, curated by Pau Kelly, contained 32 tracks, with Carmody’s originals and interpretations by the likes of John Butler, Bernard Fanning, Missy Higgins, The Herd, The Waifs, Troy Cassar-Daley and Archie Roach.
The 2020 refresh, with six additional new tracks by primarily younger artists, was spearheaded by Melbourne filmmaker Siân Darling, a student of First Nations culture and a hip hop enthusiast.
Darling approached EMI Australia’s managing director John O’Donnell a year ago.
He was immediately interested, not least because he had signed off on the 2007 version.
“Essentially we’re celebrating Kev’s songs,” O’Donnell says. “As with the 2007 version, we wanted to shine a light on his performances.
“There’s nothing more true than a songwriter like Kev, who is not a commercially focussed singer and performer.
“But the original versions have a purity and a strength. They are incredible performances.”
The refresh allowed the album to be released on the sympathetic vinyl format for the first time and for its presence on all digital platforms to be upgraded.
The 2020 version includes Courtney Barnett, Electric Fields, Mo’Ju, Kate Miller-Heidke, Alice Skye. Jimmy Barnes, Kasey Chambers, Steve Kilbey, Trials and Birdz.
As with the first collection, it is eye-opening how the songs come most alive with women’s voices.
“It’s part of the record’s charm. We know Kev primarily as a protest songwriter,” agrees O’Donnell
“But there’s so much warmth, love and care in his lyrics and his stores, that they’re well suited to a female voice.”
Carmody calls Barnett’s take on ‘Just For You’, a love song about loving someone despite many disagreements, as “so beautifully endearing and lifts my original to another plain.
“Her woman’s presentation puts a whole new perspective on the original lyrics.”
The release of Cannot Buy My Soul was initially delayed because of COVID-19. But the postpone actually made it more formidable.
When Mo’Ju, Trials and Birdz cut ‘Rider In The Rain’ in the middle of last summer, the line, “the country is in flames” could have been about the bushfires raging at the time.
Within weeks, the meaning changed as tens of thousands marched under Black Lives Matter banners.
Another worthy take is Carmody’s signature tune, ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ which he wrote with Kelly about the fight for land rights by the Gurindji people in the Northern Territory led by Vincent Lingiari.
Hailing the song “as relevant now as it was when it was first written,” Electric Fields come up with a rendition which merges living traditional culture with electronic music, uses Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara language, and sample Lingiari’s voice.
‘Blood Red Rose’, ‘Droving Woman’, ‘Eulogy For A Black Person’, ‘Black Bess’, ‘Comrade Jesus Christ’, ’Thou Shall Not Steal’ and ‘This Land Is Mine’ – on which Carmody refuses to reconcile with his teen anger or his demons – come to a new generation with vision intact.
“It’s great to hear the younger ones take it into their own genre, add their own words to them,” says the troubador.
“That’s part of the oral tradition, pass it on.”
O’Donnell sees Cannot Buy My Soul is a long term project for EMI to work, primarily through word of mouth, but offers of support from print, TV, radio and digital media are “fantastic”.
Earlier this year when Carmody joined Paul Kelly and his band to perform ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ at an outdoor show at the Tamworth country music festival before 10,000, he was pleasantly surprised when Chambers, Barnes and Cassar-Daley joined them.
In these days of uncertainty about live shows, no star-studded on-stage collaborations to promote the new album can be planned.
But as O’Donnell notes, Carmody is one of those added earlier this week to Bluesfest 2021.