If you know the Dingoes, you’ll know nostalgia played no part in the sudden, unlikely existence of their exhilarating fourth album. God knows, nostalgia and its associated rewards have been dangled in front of this legendary Australian rock outfit for 3 decades, to no avail.
If you don’t know the Dingoes, that’s fine too. Tracks stands alone and true to itself and its time, as strong, graceful and poetic as any roots rock debut you’ll hear this year. “The band broke up in 1979,” says guitarist-producer Kerryn Tolhurst, with a characteristic absence of sentimentality. “We had no intention of getting back together. Ever. “In people’s minds we were important to some degree, musically, I guess. I don’t know how far that extends, but last year, ARIA saw fit to induct us into its Hall of Fame. That brought us back together for the first time in 30 years.”
The occasion brought both new impetus & an overdue honour for a band – Broderick Smith, Chris Stockley, John Bois & the late John Lee being the other key players – who had sown their legacy over three albums between ’73 and ’79. That legacy, in case you’ve missed subsequent nods of respect from Cold Chisel, James Reyne or Paul Kelly, was an instinctive amalgamation of gritty, country-skewed rock’n’roll with a rare Australian voice & outlook.
The Dingoes’ legend has roots in the Melbourne R’n’B boom of the early ’60s, a hair-raising brush with fate in the shadow of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Mississippi air disaster of ’77, & a final act recorded at New York’s infamous Hit Factory.
Nostalgics can Google the rest. The point is that the Dingoes’ back story ended there, without false steps, regrets or unfinished business. The singer flew home to form Broderick Smith’s Big Combo. Bassist John Bois went on to teach biology in Baltimore. Chris Stockley would play guitar with Jimmy Barnes & countless others. Drummer John Lee sadly passed away in 1999.
Fast forward to the ARIA Hall of Fame, Melbourne, Aug 2009. In the succinct words of Kerryn Tolhurst – who had spent his previous three decades as songwriter and producer of more than 40 albums in the USA and Australia – “it all sounded rather good. The idea was born that maybe we should think about another album.”
Songs were submitted by all parties. 10 survived the vote. Four months after their Hall of Fame reunion, Brod, Chris & John Bois flew to Kerryn’s studio in Tuscon, Arizona, to record over Christmas & New Year 2010.
The thing is, though, that Tracks requires none of this preamble. It’s an album that draws its own map in time and space, book-ended by songs of the open road and revolving around a red heart of cracked Earth and blue sky.
The opener, “Right To Your Door”, is a reunion song sans schmaltz or hubris. “Not Worth Fighting For” & “Try Anyway” are songs that know all about striving and failure and the inevitability of each. “No Rain No River” and “Ribs of the Land” are as current and as timeless as the country they sprang from.
Tracks is an album about rambling & sanctuary, the gentleness of domestic compassion, the thunder of rock’n’roll salvation, and ultimately the endless vista of the road at either end.
“It covers territory that we haven’t covered before, but it still relates to what we were, we never wrote blatantly political songs or anything like that, but they had to do with an Australian attitude about things. It was more an atmospheric sense of place that we found.” Even after 31 years, it’s not the kind of place you can forget.
“The idea was to conceptualise where the band would have been now, had we stayed together, how we would have evolved, what we would have sounded like,” says Kerryn. “During the ’80s we would have made a lot of dreadful albums with big drum sounds. Then by the ’90s we probably would have redeemed ourselves as elder statesmen, with the advent of alt. country and roots music.
“Finally we would have got back round to what we were about in the first place. Maybe by now, given all of our combined influences we’d be having a second life. This is it.”