Despite his fame, Keith Urban was not the first Aussie country star to sign a record deal in Nashville. That honour actually goes to James Blundell, a 50-year-old singer/songwriter from Queensland, who put pen to paper a few years after winning Best New Talent at the Country Music Awards of Australia in 1987.
Blundell, a major influence on the likes of Catherine Britt and Lee Kernaghan, is best known for hits such as “Way Out West,” “Cloncurry Cattle Song,” “The Blue Heeler,” “Postcards from Saigon” and “This Road” and last released a full-length album – Woolshed Creek – in 2011.
Now he’s back with Come on In, a simple but effective name that started out as a working title and simply stayed that way for the duration of the recording process and beyond. James takes up the story: “It’s quite funny, in that this is my thirteenth studio album and it’s the only one to date where the title is not an album track…
“I worked very closely with a wonderful publisher called Bill Page, who is an industry legend in Australia. He coordinates a lot of songwriting collaborations and about two and a half years ago, he said, ‘There’s something about modern music that sort of keeps the audience at arm’s length.’
“I said, ‘Well we’ll fix that, the next album I’ll just call it ‘Come on In,’ kind of inviting people into your kitchen or your lounge room or whatever,’ and that album title never shifted. It worked all the way through because it is a fairly intimate style of performance.”
As he recently celebrated his half century, I wondered whether the twice-married father of three, who never really took to life in Nashville, due to the fact that his music has always dealt with Australian themes, maybe saw this album as giving him a new lease of life and a more positive outlook on the future.
“Yes, I do and that’s a very perceptive question, one I haven’t been asked before… I’m a little bit of an odd fish in that I really embraced the revolution of technology in the music industry because my greatest dislike was that for about 20 years, record companies, more than ever before, determined what the public got to hear…
In the ’90s labels became run mostly by accountants, as opposed to A&R and Program Managers. There was a slow throttling of the amount of music the public had access to, and with the explosion of the Net and free downloads, I said to a lot of my colleagues, ‘Look, this is inevitable, it’s gonna happen, so rather than panic about it, embrace it.’
“Also, the restriction on the music that you can deliver into the public domain, and that the public have access to, has been thrown wide open. So not only does it give every artist the chance to have their music exposed, it also gives the public the chance to not have to commit to a 25 dollar album – they can buy a track at a time if they want.
“They’ll buy one or two tracks and if they like them, then they support the artist by buying the entire body of work, and I’ve already noticed that trend. It’s rewarding in a way, in that people who like music do understand that people live and die by it.”
On the subject of how Come on In, a record made entirely from the comfort of his own home with various musical collaborators dotted all over the world, differs from what he’s done before, James remarks, “Musically, I’m so broad in my likes and I love experimental music. This is the album where I learned what it was to relinquish all control…
“My input was to deliver a vocal and acoustic demo. I wasn’t in the same room as any of the producers – I’d just get the tracks sent back with more production values. Initially, I thought it might depersonalise the process, but in the end I absolutely adored it because every time I got a track back, it was like opening a present.”
“Well I’m pretty happy with all of them,” enthuses the genuine country boy, discussing his favourites among the 10 tracks. “‘Casuarina‘ has received a lot of attention… Everybody has their favourite, but the ones that they seem to land on consistently are ‘Bones,’ the duet with Fiona Kernaghan, and a song called ‘Stranger’s Hand.’
“I’m really pleased about that because ‘Stranger’s Hand’ was actually discarded from my three previous albums because from the producer’s point-of-view it didn’t fit the body of work, and ‘Bones’ was a song I didn’t write. It’s always nice to have a track you didn’t write because then you’re allowed to like it as much as anybody else!”
Does the artist, currently in the middle of a nationwide tour, have enough material for another album? “Yeah, because we’ve established a process that works very well for all involved, I’ll work this album for as long as I can… It could be a year or it might be 16 months. But in the meantime, I’ll be recording the next body of work.
“You don’t have to prescribe a certain period of time. I take my equipment with me and do exactly what I want with the music, and then after I’ve made sure I’m happy with my part of the song, I’ll send it off and we’ll tinker with it… It probably won’t be a four-year wait until the next album.”
Come on In is available now and can be purchased from iTunes.
For more information on James Blundell, or to check on tour dates, visit his official website.