Clouds on the Road
Cloudstreet - Clouds On The Road (Own Label) 'Ladies and gentlemen, will you please be very loud and welcome Cloudstreet!' Which is exactly the kind of reception this sparkling duo gets everywhere they play. An evening spent in their company is a joyous celebration of song and companionship and fine entertainment: John and Nicole are tremendously versatile and accomplished singers and musicians, yet utterly sincere with it, and that's a winning combination, no mistake. Clouds On The Road, released to celebrate many successful years of live performances, documents several shows in New Zealand and their native Australia undertaken earlier this year, edited together to form a fairly seamless and very much typical Cloudstreet live set lasting around 75 minutes (that's including the song preambles, which are admirably concise and, helpfully, are also banded separately). Though inevitably a mere snapshot of the current Cloudstreet repertoire, it draws songs from the duo's four studio albums as well as a few as yet unrecorded items. It's a truthful portrait of the duo's talents both vocal and instrumental - although happily (and unsurprisingly) there's plenty of emphasis on their glorious harmonies with a good selection of acapella items. Passion and professionalism don't automatically go hand in hand in folk music, but Cloudstreet demonstrate they have both qualities in spades, especially evident in those acapella pieces (contrast Tom Waits' Briar And The Rose with John Warner's Miner's Washing which follows, and you'll hear what I mean). As for instrumental prowess, well Nicole and John have plenty of that too, albeit in an entirely unassuming way, while us UK Cloudstreet fans will notice immediately that the duo is augmented on some items by Belinda Ford and/or Rebecca Wright (who to my knowledge haven't yet been brought over here on tour). The 14 songs on this disc run the celebrated Cloudstreet gamut, from traditional balladry to session tune, contemporary song (including some fine original compositions like Nicole's award-winning Wooden Spoon and John's vibrant tribute to morris Dance Up The Sun) to revue-number (Sheldon Harnick's Ballad Of The Shape Of Things). Highlights come both seriously heart-stopping (First Time Ever I Saw Your Face) and deliciously fun (John's hilarious Van Song). And there's no other way a Cloudstreet live performance could end but with the brilliantly rousing John Broomhall anthem Time Is A Tempest! Now live albums are a funny thing: many don't do the performers justice, many don't survive the transition to home listening, and many are definitely for existing converts only. But Clouds On The Road is a truly life-affirming example, a live album that's good for repeated plays, and both a perfect calling-card and a perfect memento - what more could you ask for? David Kidman August 2007 Netrhythms CD REVIEW: Clouds on the Road - Live Performances in Australia and New Zealand For Cloudstreet fans who miss John and Nicole when they are off touring the U K and other far-flung Corners of the Commonwealth (there was even a reputed Cloudstreet sighting in a back-alley pub in Hong Kong a couple years ago), here is a live CD that takes you along - without your having to take out a second mortgage on your banjo to pay Qantas. "Clouds on the Road" was recorded in various concerts in N Z and back in Oz while touring early this year. There is something elemental about these two in concert: much of their warmth and wit, charm and chops come through in this well-recorded live album. One thing that struck me after listening to these 14 tracks was the wonderful variety and uniqueness of good folk music, well arranged and well performed. There's not a thematically or musically formulaic song on the list! Among the unique gems is "The Wooden Spoon" penned by Nicole. It was written for her mother who marked important family occasions with loving gastronomic creations. It is both very personal and vividly picturesque, all served up with John's rhythmic guitar. Nicole's "Violet Sarah" again has vivid word pictures that in this case made this blue-water sailor want to switch to a canal boat and the close waters and cosy companionship of the British canals. Several of the songs are done as a' Capella duets where John and Nicole really shine. These are interesting - sometimes unusual - harmonic lines that come together and resonate. I really like that! (happened to me once) Additionally there are tasty bits of Nicole's flute and whistle (and yes she is still beating on her signature cardboard box...not a Fosterphone but equally emblematic) and John's guitar and concertina. The on-stage repartee between songs is classic Cloudstreet and another reason why a live album suits them. They are joined on a few numbers by their Big Band: Rebecca Wright (cello and vocals) and Belinda Ford (fiddle, flute and vocals). The clever covers on the album are by a broad range of rascals and iconoclasts from Henry Lawson to Tom Waits, and from Tom Paxton to Ewan Mac Coll. Many of the songs were chosen with a fine ear for lyrical twists and delights, wit and humour. In John's "The Van Song" he spruiks the glories of their old Renault 1.4 van that they must sell but also say a tearful goodbye to at the end of a UK tour. There are many clever words, harmonies and tuneful bits to savour on "Clouds on the Road" so y'all go out and get a copy. John Holmberg, The Folk Rag, July 2007 Clouds on the Road From the opening strains of Thousands or More you know you are in for a treat. Nicole Murray and John Thompson's arrangement gives this old drinking song a whole new life. The song was published in D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy (1707) - and in the hands of Cloudstreet, it certainly does that. It is a strong and exciting opening to Clouds on the Road, a compilation of live tracks from this impressive folk duo. It is often the case with compilations that the opening track is this strong, but then followed by lesser offerings. Not here. Next up is an unaccompanied version of the traditional Child ballad King Willy, set to the Breton tune, Song of Cider. Those Cloudstreet devotees who think they have heard great performances of this favourite will be knocked out be the clarity and energy of the delivery. Nicole Murray and John Thompson's voice swoops between the sweet and the demonic with enviable ease. The fourteen tracks on the CD offer a feast of music that showcases both the vocal and instrumental talents of the duo. Murray's flute has moved from being simple accompaniment to centre stage where it delivers silken tones and fine ornamentation and Thompson's taking up of the concertina is a welcome addition. Yet, at the end of the day, Cloudstreet's greatest strength and attraction still remains the delicious harmonies that remain unrivalled on today's folk scene. While Thompson's voice can deliver beautifully songs such as Freedom's on the Wallaby, it is when he and Nicole combine on the light-hearted Ballad of the Shape of Things or the spine-tingling Briar and the Rose, that you realise that you are in the hands of superb vocalists. The Tom Waits' song, The Briar and the Rose has been in their repertoire for some years yet this live version delivers with a freshness and energy that is pure joy to listen to. If there is a weakness in the album it is that the collection does not include more examples of the song writing talents of this remarkable duo. John Thompson's Dance up the Sun, a hymn to Morris Dancing, is both beautifully constructed and delivered. His lyric dexterity is drolly demonstrated in The Van Song, while Nicole Murray's The Wooden Spoon takes the mundane topic of home baking and lifts it to the memorable. The CD closes with the anthemic Time is a Tempest - leaving the listener wanting more. Indeed a superb offering. Sandy McCutcheon, August, 2007.