In an often grey and repetitive musical landscape, one of the things you can count on is that when the Red Dirt Skinners deliver a new album it will bring some sunshine with it. 'Behind The Wheel' is a beautiful mature piece of work by two class musicians and writers who, after a long journey, are clearly now totally comfortable with where they are at musically.
Anyone who has followed their work over the last few years will know that they have, indeed, been travelling - literally, musically and lyrically. They have pushed some boundaries – (for a start, how many close harmony sax and guitar duos do you know?) – and look at all the fun they have had confusing the genre police. They have written some demanding, tough, spiky, hard songs as well as some sentimental traditional ballads. They have put their own relationship under the public spotlight. They have sprinkled some magic dust over the occasional cover and they constantly establish a bond with live audiences that most musicians would envy. They can do sing-along. They can do shut-up-and-listen. Now they have delivered a wonderful romantic love story with, like every relationship, a few bumps in the road.
Appropriately, the title track 'Behind The Wheel' allows Sarah's sax to roam, throttle open, like a free spirit over what has got be one of the best 'road' songs for a long long time. Put this on repeat and head for the freeway. This is followed by a couple of tenderly written no-nonsense love songs 'Home Sweet Home' and and 'The Other Half', the latter being a carefully nuanced opportunity for each of them to sing solo to each other. This is classic harmony writing and singing.
If you have seen these two in live performance you will know that they always bring an enormous response from their audiences who know when to join in and when to listen in quiet admiration. There are several tracks on here that are certain to set their audiences both on fire and also get them to look knowingly at each other. 'The Inspiration' is a clever sidelong glance at those relationships where some 'people like you' can be demanding and oblivious to the problems they cause but 'karma will tell, I wish you well'. A particularly good example of their knowing lyricism is 'Thoughts of The Past' which is a painful recall of a once beautiful lady who has both aged and saddened with her years...'her Chardonnay is laced with ice and tears' is not a line that is easy to hear but fits perfectly into this beautifully harmonised piece.
'Daybreak' is another fascinating track where they play around with tempos and harmonies, again singing to each other and with each other, rolling it to a mad frantic guitar and saxophone driving finish. I can see audiences from Toronto to Tooting jumping to this one. The final track is a delightful instrumental reprise of an earlier enigmatic love song 'Eleanor Joan'. Symbolically, Sarah's sax flys high and free again over the top of the Rob's rhythmic guitar as they drive off, surely, into a golden landscape.
The Skinners have produced yet another eloquent and classy album. As usual, it won't fit into your orderly music filing system anywhere - but make sure you put it on the top of your shopping list.