AN ALBUM I haven’t been able to stop playing since I received it is John O’Dea’s newie, quite appropriately titled Storyteller. This extraordinarily gifted singer-songwriter from Orroroo, a little township not far from South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, has come up with an absolute gem for his third full album. This album, unlike his debut, If Stones Could Talk, and the follow-up, Old Rusty Ute, was recorded in Sydney with Stuie French, at Stuie’s Swingin’ Door Studios. Johno’s excellent choice of producer and engineer has made a world of difference to the overall presentation of this new disc – and Stuie’s choice of session personnel was spot on – the crème de la crème.
Storyteller opens with a calypso-like tune, Streaky Bay, inspired by a visit to this picturesque bayside location. It’s a real surprise opening, as you don’t really know what you’re in for next. Then you’re hit right between the eyes with Stars and Rainbows, a beautiful ballad which in truth is Johno’s prayer for a friend, who is battling a serious illness. Haven’t all of us wished on a star at one point in our lives and hoped it would come true? This song is a wish with a difference.
Where The Outback Starts came from a few lines told to Johno by a friend in the outback – “when the handshake’s a little stronger, and where the smile lingers longer … that’s where the outback starts.” He’s crafted a delightful song around this and the musical backing on this track, in particular, is a killer. It jumps right off the CD at you, never once overpowering John’s vocals.
Rodney Vincent’s story of a homeless man on the streets of Melbourne comes to life on Two Dollars For A Blanket. Johno’s honest delivery of this song is one of the highlights on an album chock full of gems. River Murray Dreaming took me out of my loungeroom in Tamworth and onto a houseboat on the Murray River – with a glass of wine in hand and a fresh catch of the day in front of me.
I defy anyone to listen to Ram in the Dam and not laugh out loud. The first line got me going…. “That ram would shag a suitcase and he had an attitude…” Stuie and Camille’s two sons, Chet and Sonny, make a guest vocal appearance on this song – listen out for the kids on the school bus. The Saddle is the very first song Johno ever had recorded by another artist. Young Matt Manning did a great job of it on his album, Borderline, also recorded with Stuie. I’m thrilled Johno chose to record this song as it was always one of my favourites – and he adds something quite unique in the delivery that can only be achieved by the songwriter.
A poem given to Johno by Manfred Vijars was the inspiration for the haunting ballad, Play Clair de Lune, about a brief but unforgettable wartime encounter. It’s a sexy, romantic tune, adding to the variety on the disc. Ben Hall is the only song not from John O’Dea’s prolific pen. This one came from Rob Parkes and as most Aussies would know, is about one of our most colourful bushrangers.
Remarkable was written after the first Rock the Mount concert at Melrose, in the Flinders Ranges. I’ve never seen the mountain, but thanks to Johno’s beautiful word pictures, I now know just what to expect when I visit the place. Ride of Your Life comes from pearls of wisdom handed down by our grandparents. Let’s hope we all have the ride of our lives by the time our race is run. Cross at the Side of the Road was written with the utmost respect for the countless lives lost on our roads and asks questions of what might have become of these people.
It’s a real gift for a writer to be able to transport you to another place, another time and have you enjoy every second of that journey. John O’Dea has achieved this in spades on Storyteller. I’d always suspected there was more to this bloke than meets the eye and Storyteller confirms it. It’s packed with tales of everyday Australians and various situations in their lives – some sad, some funny, but all well worth a hearing.
This is an album you could listen to over and over and never tire of. It was lapped up last weekend at the Mildura Country Music Festival by fans keen to take home a little of what they saw and heard. With strong sales, it’s a good indication that Storyteller will see this insightful Australian songmaker truly make his mark.
Anna Rose Media Solutions
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Anna Rose’s Country Music Notes column is published each Thursday in The Northern Daily Leader newspaper, Tamworth NSW