Graham Reid | | 1 min read
My guess is that you'd have to look long and hard (possibly through secondhand bins) to find albums by Glen Moffatt, Al Hunter and Red McKelvie who, from the late Eighties to the mid-Nineties carried the flag for contemporary New Zealand country music.
They didn't owe a lot to Nashville other than the sense of a song but were too straight to be alt.country (which at the time was still an emerging movement), however they wrote and sang songs which resonated with the country/rural spirit but which were also urban, and never urbane.
By the closing overs of this interesting but short-lived period Moffatt had gone to Australia, Hunter went somewhere else (the West Coast of the South Island) and McKelvie's apppearances were becoming increasingly limited.
Oddly enough this group of writers were embraced more by rock listeners than the more staid country people who preferred to hear the old songs and play their Jim Reeves albums, but these three made fine albums: Moffatt three by my count, Hunter maybe about the same, possibly four (his Neon Cowboy debut of '87 effectively kick-starting the movement) and McKelvie maybe just the one?
This admirable double-disc collection draws from the three Moffatts, McKelvie's Ridin' The Trains and Hunter's later Cold Hard Winter: and it is wonderful to hear again songs like Tearing My Old Heart Down, Somewhere in New Zealand Tonight and Rain Across the Lake (Moffatt), Gypsy Woman, Cold Hard Winter, Final Curtain and Sleep Won't Come (Hunter) and McKelvie's more traditonal Americana songs (That's What I Like, Ridin' On Trains).
There's a tough but sentimental soul in these tight and crafted songs, elevated by Moffatt and Hunter's great voices (not a claim you'd necessarily make for guitarist McKelvie) and they stand as testament to the artists' committment to a genre that was always going to be a hard sell.
That this is subtitled "NZ country singer-songwriters series: Vol 1" is very encouraging. But a thought occurs: why is with so many compilations such as these that no one thinks they are deserving a some kind of liner essay to place them in the context of their time, and their resonances for a contemporary audience?
An opportunity lost on that front, especially when the original albums aren't that easy to locate.