Roger Knox ‘Stranger In My Land’


Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#834 in the Series) is Roger Knox, Stranger In My Land (Bloodshot Records)

Part travelogue, part National Geographic special, and part crash sociology course, Stranger in My Land, the new album by Roger Knox is surely to be the most important album you will listen to all year, and might just be the most important album of the decade.  The overall arch of this record, the unfair treatment of Australian Aborigines, is a subject matter that until now has not necessarily reached mainstream hearts and ears, and with Bloodshot Records along with Jon Langford  (Waco Brothers, Pine Valley Cosmonauts) acting as curators, and Roger Knox, The Koori King of Country, leading the band, we get a 12 chapter history of a man and an entire race of very proud people that over the course of many decades have been denied every human right possible including how they should raise their very own children.

The songs themselves, original Aborigine folk tunes along with original present-day selections by Australian Outback country singers, were carefully selected by Knox, Langford and his production crew to evoke not only the heart and spirit of the people, but also the beauty of the landscape and natural surroundings in a part of the world that is largely unfamiliar to most of us.  The juxtaposition of the highly descriptive scenes that are painted for us that make it seem like we are in a low flying glider observing this entire beautiful wilderness landscape while “watching a pelican build his nest” one minute, against the reality of “Stranger in My Land” the title track where we learn of murder as well as worse atrocities the next, can be jarring at first listen, and could even make you stop listening, the inherent message is that powerful.  But don’t.

The Pine Valley Cosmonauts are the musical back bone on this record, and as you would expect with Bloodshot Records and Jon Langford on point, the collaborating artists on this project are nothing short of spectacular. The songs may be old, but the production value here is first-rate and modern in approach.  The song sequencing is perfect to tell the story, and Langford, a highly collectible, expressively emotive artist of the highest caliber painted the album cover.

Dave Alvin provides some gnarly guitar on the artistically licensed, parts of it might be biographical opening track “The Land Where the Crow Files Backwards”.  The song starts with a young man from his birth when his parents left him to row his own canoe, to when he learns to ride horses in a land where the crow flies backwards and the pelican builds his nest, all the while fighting a landscape of racism and extreme prejudice. This is perfect song placement at the start to set the stage for the listener.

Kelly Hogan lends backing vocals to “Blue Gums, Calling Me Back Home,” one of those find a pretty shell on a beach of despair sort songs with the Hogan Americana style vocals meshing perfectly with the husky bear hug baritone of Knox. Bill Anderson of the Austin band The Meat Purveyors  joins the fray adding guitar duties on “Ticket to Nowhere,”  where the lyric “If I could go somewhere, I would be long gone, on this one day ticket to nowhere, the day that I was born.” Pretty much says it all about the message of this song.  As a historical foot note, this track will also be immortalized as the last vocal track laid down by the late and awesomely great Charlie Louvin.

Dallas Good of The Sadies and Tawny Newsome  of Skull Orchard do double duty on “Arafura Pearl”  where we learn about the city of Darwin,” the multi-racial beauty, the adolescent girl, the jewel of Australia  known as the Arafura pearl ,” where the female vocals take center stage,  and “Streets of Tamworth,”  where Tawney’s vocals float butterfly-like in the ether.

Sally Tims of The Mekons learned of Roger Knox and the Aboriginal scene back in 2001, and the two became fast friends.  Here, she adds her vocal talents to the final track “Home in the Valley,” that gives us a “damn, I need to check out that New South Wales part of the world she is singing about” performance that ends things on a lovely note.

This album deserves to have much the same fate and Impact as the recently unearthed Rodriguez album Cold Fact had in the early 70’s, exposing and providing social commentary on the atrocities brought on by the apartheid movement in South Africa including the trampling of civil rights, free speech and basic human values. The album became a watershed work of art that was so wildly popular in virtually every South African home back in the day you would find a copy of Abbey Road, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Cold Fact as part of every record collection.

Stranger in My Land is the new millennium combination of Cold Fact and the Johnny Cash social commentary classic Bitter Tears (Ballads of the American Indian).  The story is essentially the same, the atrocities inflicted are almost spot-on mirror images of each other, only this time the subjects are Australian Aborigines instead of American Indians, and indeed the message is exactly the same.  Only the years, the move from vinyl to cd and mp3, along with the actions that complement the receipt of the message may have changed.

Stranger in My Land  is a five on a five scale listen.

– Walt Falconer, Houston Texas, USA

Track Listing

  1.  Crow Flies Backwards
  2. Stranger In My Country
  3. Blue Gum Trees
  4. Took The Children Away
  5. Arafura Pearl
  6. Brisbane Blacks
  7. Wayward Dreams
  8. Scobie’s Dream
  9. Ticket To Nowhere
  10. Warrior In Chains
  11. Streets of Tamworth
  12. Home In The Valley

Related Links

Listen to selected cuts from Stranger In My Land below.

Here are more 2013 releases

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Posted by Larry Carta

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