by Chris Familton
Roger Knox’s new album, his first in nine years, is a ambitious and expansive affair that seamlessly weaves together American and Aboriginal strands of country music with a strong social conscience and a laconic sense of humour.
The collaborative aspect of Stranger in My Land is important but not one that overshadows the essence and charm of the songs. John Langford of Mekons and Waco Brothers played an important role in the making of the album and getting The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Charlie Louvin, Dave Alvin and others involved. They lend their instruments and voices as support for Knox’s rich warm voice that tells stories of heartache, the stolen generation, persecution and alcoholism. These are songs that have been sung over and over, across generations of Aboriginal country singers and many may have been lost if not for Knox collating them here. Stylistically the album swings from honky tonk to slow ballads and the lighthearted bluegrass stomp of Scobie’s Dream featuring Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. Brisbane Blacks is a moving and sympathetic observation on the impact of alcohol on Knox’s culture and people while Took The Children Away lays out the truth of the forced removal of children with empathy and clarity.
Stranger in My Land is one of those increasingly rare albums that serves as a historic cultural document wrapped up in the trappings of storytelling and song. That it features such wonderful playing and understated guest appearances that serve the song rather than highlighting the status of the contributors makes this both a special and important album from one of this country’s finest singers.
this review was first published in The Drum Media and on themusic.com.au