Frank Yamma – Countryman (Wantok Music)
The world has experienced ethnic music from the land down under for years. The tribal-rock beats of the aboriginal group Yothu Yindi, the blind-aboriginal guitarist, Gurrumul, the band Tiddas, and the traditional folk music of Australia’s Xavier Rudd showcase only a sampling of the talented musical attributes, styles, and influences born out of the nation in the Southern Hemisphere. Now you can add Frank Yamma to the mix.
Frank has been musically-active since the 1990’s. He is an aboriginal Pitjantjatjara from Central Australia. He sings in five different languages, including English on his latest album, Countryman. The international influence of fellow ‘countryman’ singer and guitarist Gurrumul, seems to be the closest, aboriginal comparison. However, Frank’s achingly beautiful voice is at times sorrowful, hopeful, bluesy, and rootsy. In fact, ‘I Didn’t Know Who You Were That Day’ almost sounds like a song that Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers-fame would create. The piano-guitar anthem, ‘Remember The Day’ and the equally-delightful ‘Make More Spear’ are soothing cauldrons of ear-friendly melodies with all the charm and warmth of an Alice Springs sunset on a summer evening. The grittier, folk-rock ballad, ‘Calling Your Name,’ is the most pop-focused production without all the fake electronic wizardry and pointless dance grooves. Essentially, it is pure roots-folk music with an earthy, yet melodious feel that would be a perfect radio-friendly single release. A more rock-centered guitar solo occurs on ‘Inside.’
As a storyteller, Frank delivers the plight of aboriginal and ecological existence within Australia’s deserts and urban centers, while touching on issues of aboriginal and non-aboriginal populations. The incredible authenticity and sincerity shine through on every song. Twelve tracks of English and non-English-lyric songs provide a mix of aboriginal influences with limited percussion, guitar, piano, and strings, which seem to mimic the vast enormity of Australia’s Outback. If you are waiting for the downsides to the album, you will be sorely mistaken. In fact, the worst part of the album is the end, because that means the music is over. Thankfully, you can play the album over and over again. Frank Yamma’s Countryman is virtually an exploratory and auditory window into the soul of aboriginal guitar music.
Reviewed by Matthew Forss.