Small towns and the escape from them or retreat to them are often the subject of songs in country music. In recent times we’ve had Jenny Queen (Small Town Misfits) and Hurray For The Riff Raff (Small Town Heroes) address the topic in their album titles and now NSW songstress Fanny Lumsden has dug into the geographical and emotional psyche of small towns on her debut album.
Lumsden has proven over the last few years that she’s a born entertainer with a voice that swings between pop, soul and country and by surrounding herself with fine musicians (The Thrillseekers) she’s never failed to leave an imprint on an audience by way of her personality and performance. The good news is that she’s bottled that live experience and poured it into her first album. There’s a clean and bright production quality that leans towards an indie pop sensibility whilst still draped in the traditional trappings of banjo, upright bass, fiddle and pedal steel. It sounds tailored for radio and instant accessibility but scratch the surface and there is plenty of substance to match the polish.
The title track is the first standout song with its weeping pedal steel framing the tale of so many individuals who rule the rural roost in small towns at the expense of creating a positive life for themselves and those around them. It’s an accusatory song but also one steeped in pity. It talks of lost chances and spoilt potential, all for short term gain, with the song’s musical restraint perfectly matches the lyrical sentiments.
‘Rattle & Your Roll’ explores a similar melancholic feel and it’s the most emotionally striking song on the album. Putting herself in the shoes of someone who has the house and family and all the things expected of people in the name of ‘making it’, yet is still unhappy with their life, Lumsden paints a tragic picture. She dials into the sadness via her voice which soars through weary melodies. It has that effortless, lilting quality that country music is built on.
The songs that contrast the more frantic and bluegrass leaning ones are the most effective examples of Lumsden’s songwriting. There is space and time for her to weave lines that pick up on small details in social situations, objects in the corners of a song’s canvas. ‘I Choose You’ is another shuffling masterpiece. ‘Wait for the penny to drop and show it’s silver lining’ she sings in a sweet and soulful tone.
The balancing act between commercial country music and the more earthy alt. country world can be a tricky one. Kacey Musgraves and Lindi Ortega are two examples of how a singer/songwriter can exist in both worlds, finding popular success and maintaining favour with the critics. In Australia Lumsden is the finest exponent of just that. A country girl living in the city, embracing technology and bar gigs while investing time and money putting on country hall tours and writing songs that reflect her life experiences. Small Town Big Shot is an accomplished album that deserves to be recognised in Tamworth and Newtown (and on the world stage) for its accessible, strong and honest songwriting.