Reviewed by Ian Phillips.
By Fred Smith, Independent 2020.
Last week I had the pleasure of being at the Canberra launch of Australian troubadour Fred Smith’s new album, Domestic and I was reminded once again of just how good a songwriter he is.
I have written previously about Fred’s Dust Of Uruzgan album, which is widely considered an Australian classic and, just like John Schumann with his I Was Only 19 and Eric Bogle with The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, Fred will be called on to perform Sapper’s Lullaby and other selections from the album each and every Anzac Day until he is so old he will be barely able to hold a guitar.
His new album Domestic, as the title suggests, contains songs built around themes that fall much closer to home.
As a songwriter, Fred is in exalted territory. He’s right up there with the very best this country has ever produced and his albums never cease to delight and surprise.
Domestic displays a diverse palette of musical styles from folk and country through to touches of pop and rock and, above all, they are infused with beautiful lyrical and melodic subtleties.
Fred is a diplomat as well as a wonderful songwriter. Consequently he’s experienced many things that the rest of us are unlikely to encounter given our protected lives.
Maybe it’s this experience that leads to much of the dry wit and sardonic humour in his lyrics that so delights and amuses us. In the song Musical Chairs he’s more than prepared to skewer the political ineptitude of our revolving door of pretend leaders, however it’s his quieter, more personal and deeply emotional songs that brought a lump to my throat.
Four Strong Hands , sung as a duet with the wonderful Liz Frencham, is a song about the deep despair felt by many on the land who have been brought to their knees by years of drought and the avalanche of debt that has driven some, almost exclusively men, to suicide.
Or the beautiful and touching Heart Work, one of a few songs dedicated to his wife, about her mastery in dealing with all issues of the heart.
These are songs of extraordinary depth and require the skills of a master craftsman to pull off. Lyrically they mix insight with tenderness and vulnerability, a combination that’s devilishly hard to achieve without coming across as shallow or twee. Fred astutely avoids both of these traps.
This is an album that rewards multiple listens and it’s right up there with his best.