REVIEW BY JOHN BROOMHALL for TRAD & NOW
I took this new album, (the 100th in the Restless catalogue and the 16th by Davies and Ilott) on a recent trip I made to the outback. Listening to these beautiful songs on the dirt road which follows the Darling River between Pooncarie and Menindee gave me an added sense of connection: words, music and landscape, weaving their way through me like bright threads of meaning spun from the heart itself.
Penny Davies and Roger Ilott occupy a unique place in Australian music spanning the great divide between Folk and Country. They have reinvigorated the bush ballad, kept alive the protest song, and have celebrated all that it means to be Australian and citizens of the world, as the new millennia continues its dark unfolding, without a cork hat, lagerphone or phoney accent on the horizon.
Big Water is an important album. It breaks new ground just as their 1st album, 'Restless' did some twenty three years ago. Here are songs of place and identity and of heartfelt humanity. Songs of hills and railway lines, rivers and oceans. Songs that you feel could just make a difference as we all keep on trying to 'turn the world around'.
Musically, you won't hear better on an Australian album. You discover more with each listening. Roger Ilott has wound his guitars up full throttle and the Rickenbacker 12 string has a stridency which is compelling. Many of his arrangements reference the Byrds, but the sound he achieves goes much further than the tribute. It is a sound he and Penny Davies have made their own. It’s one of the things about Big Water which make you want to listen to it again, and again. That and the sweetness and strength of both vocals. Roger Ilott takes more lead vocals nowadays and there is an integrity in his gentle delivery, a sureness which only comes from decades of performance. Penny Davies simply has one of the richest voices in Australian folk and country music. Put the two together and you have the best harmonies you're likely to hear.
This is an album of standout songs. From Bill Scott's wonderful sea shanty 'Back to the Sea Again, Johnny' to the evocative 'The Hills and Rocks of Home'; the powerful message of 'Turn the World Around’; the poignancy of 'Rusty Dusty Days'. Every song a poetic gem in itself.
It's little wonder Penny Davies and Roger Ilott who already have an Australia wide following for their music, are now finding an audience for their songs around the world.
REVIEW BY JACK HUMPHRYS - AUSTRALIAN OPTIONS SUMMER 2013-2014 #75
Years ago when I first heard Penny Davies and Roger Ilott they were singing the song Rain about the massive rainfall that the northern Queensland town of Tully receives. Big Watercontinues this important theme as they sing and record from their studio in southeast Queensland. With a belief that music can help change the world, they sing of Australia’s great river system in the title track Big Water and When the Cooper’s Coming Down, the latter being Adelaide writer Max Fatchen’s poem put to music. They do this creatively with another piece of Fatchen verse, Listen to the Wind. Similarly, Ilott’s reworking of Harry Robertson’s The Humpback Whaleworks well. As songwriters Davies and Ilott chart the changes in regional Australia in Pushing it Down (about the tough life of orchardists) and the days when rail was big in Werris Creek and The Once –Great Railway Family.
Great harmonies and musicianship underlie this collection, but it is the engagement with issues of the day that is hopeful here, something that has driven Davies and Ilott, since early in their careers, as sung about in Ilott’s interesting autobiographical track, Rusty Dusty Days.
The song Turn the World Around and their fine version of Pete Seeger’s Turn! Turn! Turn!provide the framework of
optimism that permeates this eclectic album.