The Bads: Travel Light (Warners)

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The Bads: Fire in a Caravan
The Bads: Travel Light (Warners)

In an interview some years ago Graham Brazier said that in the rush to embrace younger artists, New Zealand had created what he called "adult contempt". If you were over 28 you were ignored, he said.

In the years since -- with the Heritage Artist and Hall of Fame awards -- some of those older musicians (among them Herbs, Ray Columbus and the Invaders, and Brazier's band Hello Sailor) have been acknowledged however.

But his point is still relevant. Outside of that inner circle which also includes the Finns, Dave Dobbyn, Bic Runga and Shona Laing , there are artists with strong careers behind them who still struggle for attention and don't quite get the respect they deserve.

The Bads -- Brett Adams and Dianne Swann -- fall into that category, and like many of their ilk they don't rest up. The Bads just keep making new and interesting music, none better than the songs on this, their third album.

Step past the intelligently arranged but rather lightweight opener California and this album opens up in unexpected ways: Worried Mind is slinky country blues-pop with Adams' guitar bringing a swampy mood and coiling out like barbed wire into the coda; Fly Together has a gentle but dark lope to its probing lyrics ("puts the blame on her now but he really ought to thank her, what's the cost, what is lost if you always look behind you") and Don't Forget Yourself puts Adams up front vocally for finger-picking folk and yet more beautifully understated guitar work.

This last song alone oozes confidence and stands in the company of the classy pop of Crowded House.

From ballads (See the Light) and pop (the exceptional Woken By A Melody) to slippery rock (Give me Some More) , this is smart pop-rock with elements of alt.country (and more traditional country on the knees-up, hoe-down, outta-here of Good Lies), classic chords progressions given a twist, singing which is emotionally engaging and guitar work offering more by being so economic and focused.

And it would be a hard heart that wasn't taken in by the moody'n'mysterious Fire in a Caravan, or the seductive and gently droning atmospherics of Wintertime which closes things.

With subtle assistance -- MIke Hall on acoustic bass, Dave Kahn on banjo, mandolin, accordion and mandolin --  Adams and Swann confirm that when it comes to songcraft and delivery they stand among our finest . . . albeit in that world where they have to struggle for the mainstream attention they so richly deserve.

If you haven't yet, it's time to pay attention to the Bads. Who are very, very good. 

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