Broderick Smith - Man Out of Time

(album out 5 October 2018 through Bloodlines)

1. Singer In Chains
2. Prayer Flags
3. She Is Still Beautiful
4. Where The Minstrel Passes
5. The Desert Blooms Again
6. Angus McMillan
7. Island Of Peace
8. The Birds Fell From The Sky
9. Living Above The Law
10. Man Out Of Time

A lonely caravan in a coastal town. A young sports hero flying off the rails. A murderous hero of a forgotten nation. A woman of a certain age glowing under a red harvest moon, a stranger emerging reborn from the desert, birds falling dead from the sky.

Welcome to the world of Broderick Smith: Man Out Of Time.

“I live in the country. Sometimes I borrow somebody’s shack and go chop wood for a week or two,” says the Australian rock journeyman with a knack for holding his powder dry, then turning up with a handful of quietly compelling songs that stop you dead in your tracks.

This album’s been in the can “for two or three years,” he says. “We made it up in [guitarist] Matt Walker’s place in the hills. I’m always writing and doing other things; little shows by myself, the odd festival. I prefer that to the beer barn thing. I did that recently after 20 or 30 years and I realised why I stopped. It’s hard to be sensitive on that stage.”

A study in vivid storytelling and mature restraint, Man Out Of Time arrives 10 years since Brod’s last solo album, Unknown Country, and eight since Tracks, his brief return to his legendary ‘70s band, the Dingoes. It’s fair to say that much has changed, not least in the spellbinding tone that can only come with the patience of a seasoned master craftsman.

“I’ve been trying to replace my grumpiness with compassion,” he says. “I’m 70, man. I mean, for me to do a full-on rock album I’d have to wear a corset and take a lot of speed. I’m not into that. I don’t drink alcohol.

“At school we had a book about theatre called The Play’s the Thing. It’s not the actor, not the director, it’s the play. When I make music now, I remember. The song is the thing.”

Some of these are direct answers to Unknown Country. “That [title] track was about walking into an unknown wilderness, trying to find some meaning. On this album, ‘The Desert Blooms Again’ is the same character coming out and going back into the town. He’s been looking for something that he realises has been there all along.”

He wrote it before he saw Mad Max: Fury Road, he adds, lest he be accused of pinching the loaded image of a lizard under a boot. In terms of source material, Brod’s more apt to cite Wake In Fright or Pilgrim’s Progress; Arabic poetry or Tim Page’s books on Vietnam.

The latter was the seed for Island of Peace: a story about Vietcong, American and South Vietnamese soldiers meeting on a sandbar to pray for peace as hell raged around them. For background on Angus McMillan, he recommends Our Founding Murdering Father by PD Gardener, though the songwriter’s clear affinity with the country brings its own gravity.

“I thank John Howard in the liner notes. It was him who said we have to move on and forget the past. Well, how can you forget something if you never knew about it? If you look at McMillan’s memorial plaque [in Gippsland, Victoria], there’s all these bullet dents in it. I think a lot of people in those areas have come to terms with their First Australian blood.”

Other stories are nearer in the collective consciousness. ‘The Birds Fell From The Sky’ was written after Brad and Matt played the ravaged remains of King Lake in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires.

“We found a band that had lost one or two of the members and we said ‘Well, you’re playing with us’,” Brod says. “They looked like refugees. There were cars melted and cows crying in pain because they hadn’t been milked. Behind the tents there were dead birds everywhere. The fire had burnt all the oxygen from the sky.”

‘Living Above the Law’ “could have been about any rich kid: an actor, a musician. I used a sportsman because we’re seeing some young bloke every week, it seems, getting himself in trouble. The song isn’t praising them but saying listen, these guys need help. ‘Tell a man he’s a god and he’ll turn into a devil’.”

Some stories are imagined, with a novelist’s eye for detail and implied backstory — such as the devastating song of unrequited hope, ‘Prayer Flags’. ‘She Is Still Beautiful’ is drawn from life, a portrait of incredible tenderness, co-written by American Tom Rogerson with the spare accompaniment of acoustic guitar, autoharp and Steve Hadley on bass.

Arrangement wise, less is always more, from Shane Reilly’s understated pedal steel to Richard Tankard’s organ and a couple of flute lines from King Gizzard’s Stu Mackenzie. Co-writers include Matt Walker, Kevin Bennett of The Flood and Rob Hirst and Dom Turner from the Backsliders. But it’s the peerless voice of the storyteller that commands attention.

“It’s about the story, and a singer and the principal instrument, which might be a guitar,” Brod says. “That sets the pace of the tune. Hamish Stuart added the drums last. When you do that you get some human frailty in it. If you do it the other way, with the drums right up front, all of a sudden it’s tightening up and happening by force.

“I’ve recorded that way before and it’s valid, but these albums need to be slightly ethereal and human. I’ve left the slides on the strings so it sounds real. You can hear the rattle.”

You can hear Brod’s own story, too, in the dignified older man’s manifesto of the title track and, albeit at arm’s length, in the opening portrait of ‘Singer In Chains’. “That came from watching a documentary on an English glam rocker that was still playing Butlin’s holiday camps, stuff like that,” he says. “It was so fucking tragic. So I kind of wrote it for him.”

As for this singer, “I can walk away from all that,” he says. “You are what you are. The pop charts are the province of the young. All I want to do is make the best records that I can”.