Published Mar 24, 2015I'm adding to my list of likeable things about Courtney Barnett the fact that she's called to my attention the work of fellow Aussie songwriter Darren Hanlon, who is touring the U.S. with her in May.
Where Did You Come From?, Hanlon's fifth album and first in five years, has a crazy genesis story, also involving the number five: he traveled around the southern U.S. and recorded in five different studios in New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Clarksdale and Muscle Shoals, working with 15 different musicians, some of them ragtag — apparently a guy who tried to break into a car Hanlon was sitting in ended up on one song playing bass — and some legendary. The stuff recorded in Memphis with long-time Al Green drummer Howard Grimes, including "Trust Your Feelings (When You Wake)" and closer "Shine A Light," feels especially satisfying.
Simple and engaging on first listen, Where Did You Come From? grows better with time, its disparate parts somehow glomming together into one unfussy, magical statement with Hanlon's conversational delivery as the through line. He demonstrates a fair amount of breadth within soulful indie-folk-rock, meandering-bard-with-beat-up-old-guitar terrain, moving from the Elizabeth Cotton-indebted "There's Nothing On My Mind" to a lap steel and piano ballad in love letter form ("Letter From An Australian Mining Town") to a brief track that's basically just tap dancing (really).
Hanlon's had fair comparisons to Billy Bragg and Jonathan Richman ("The Chattanooga Shoot Shoot" is practically a sequel to Jojo's "You're Crazy For Taking The Bus" off Jonathan Goes Country, complete with drums-as-gun shots and witty social commentary).
But what's best here is most tender and natural: Hanlon turns over lead vocals to American singer Elle King for "The Will Of The River," her slightly raspy voice sweetly breaking at pivotal moments; on gentle ballad "Halley's Comet, 1986" Hanlon returns to a an enduringly vivid astronomical childhood memory. Where Did You Come From? Indeed. (Yep Roc)