"Like making any new record, at first it was a bit of a struggle. It's a puzzle. You've got to figure out the pieces. Then it starts falling into place."
Actually, Ross Wilson's back catalogue is like one of those 10,000-piece double-sided puzzles with no straight edges. Tributary, his first acoustic album for Australia's premier legacy label, Liberation Blue, could have been put together a hundred different ways. But it was always going to blow your mind.
"The first thing I had to work out was how to make it interesting to me," says the voice of Daddy Cool, Mondo Rock and a maze of other musical ventures. "I didn’t wanna pick up an acoustic guitar and play the songs the same but softer. Like, you can't beat the original Eagle Rock. You've got to take it somewhere completely different."
Somewhere like a ragtime gin joint circa 1908, in the case of that unassailable Oz radio classic. Another early '70s gem, Bom Bom, wakes up in a French Caribbean dancehall in an Afro-Cuban sea breeze. Mondo Rock's State of The Heart is playfully recast as Daddy Cool doo-wop, and Bed of Nails is stunningly reborn as a mournful bluegrass hayride.
Other transformations are more subtle. Mondo's biggest hit, Come Said The Boy, wears a melancholy melodica motif, new bass line and vital re-emphasis in the backing vocal department. Hi Honey Ho leans closer to Tamworth while Zoop Bop Gold Cadillac takes a spin through LA's Mexican quarter.
"A lot if it is about choosing the right players," says Ross, a connoisseur of musos and styles after 40 years at every frontier of popular music. Jazz pianist and arranger John McAll and bluegrass maestro Gerry Hale are vital cogs in his umpteenth studio ensemble. Check out Dorian West's sighing slide guitar on an older, sadder Cool World, and the fluid percussive grooves of Nicky Bomba and Stuart Fraser on Fugitive Kind and a haunting Heartbreak Hotel, the album's sole, resonant cover.
Then again, some of the greatest moments here simply come from the back of the singer's own head: the lost or forgotten likes of Boy You’re Paranoid, Aliens Walk Among Us and Searching For My Baby sound like pieces of a brand new puzzle, glued together with If You Ever Come Back, a new song that closes a circle begun by a teenaged loner circa '65.
"Come Back Again was about this loser teen guy, following the girl back from the dance, moping around the streets late at night. That was me before I joined a band," Ross laughs. "If You Ever Come Back is the same guy, but now he's older, sitting in a room, probably in a straitjacket by this time."
Always the same guy, always completely different, and maybe a little crazy after all these years. That's Ross Wilson for you.