Jim Conway, Review

Jim Conway’s Big Wheel (Folkus, Friday 11 December 2009)
by Zeke

Three big wheels

The Karismakatz, DJ Gosper and Christo Carlsen, opened the evening with a set showcasing not only their musical skills but also the depth of their songwriting.

In late 2009 DJ was named Best Female Vocalist of the Year by the Canberra Blues Society, her song Baby Rose was named Best Song, and their recent CD, Hot Flush Blues was named Best Album.

DJ was immediately on form, and her harmonica solo in Go With The Flow was a wonderful, soaring introduction to an excellent performance. Other song highlights included Baby Rose, with the haunting guitar melody supplemented by guest Dave O’Neill’s violin part.

Christo’s guitar work was excellent and especially effective in the instrumental and vocal interplay on his beautiful song Just For A Moment, which was named as one of the top ten ballads of 2009 by the Australian Songwriters Association.

They finished with Hot Flush Blues, a witty and searingly honest observation about the side effects of chemotherapy.

Jim Conway treated punters to a first ever outing by the three-piece version of his acclaimed outfit, Big Wheel (they usually perform as a six-piece band).

Together with Don Hopkins and former Canberran Jess Green, Jim gave a typically generous and richly rewarding performance. At different times they were joined by Dave O’Neill, whose mandolin and violin contributions were terrific.

Jim showed why he is regarded as this country’s premier harmonica player, and several of his solos were simply breathtaking – particular highlights were the braying wailing in Jess Green’s It’s All So Easy, and the piercing, mournful solo in the Don Hopkins song, Living In A Fool’s Paradise.

The set list included songs from both CD’s, Little Story and Share This Life, and demonstrated how fine a songwriter Don Hopkins is – and how under-rated he is. His rollicking, piano-driven boogie stompers are genuinely passionate and enthusiastic, and light years away from the hollow pastiches delivered by some other acts. And his command of the blues clearly comes from a deep understanding. But sitting quite comfortably alongside these obvious crowd pleasers are a beautiful range of songs that include poignant ballads and disarmingly honest observations about contemporary life.

Highlights included Living In A Fool’s Paradise, Running Away With The Blues, and Ain’t Gonna Worry.

Jess Green’s contributions provided a fascinating, and very satisfying, counterpoint, to Don’s songs. After graduating from the School of Music with first class honours Jess quickly established herself as one of the newest, and brightest, lights in Australian jazz circles. In addition to performing with Big Wheel she also leads her own trio, and has recorded with her own septet.

The slow, brooding atmosphere of Bancka Youth was a particular highlight, and in her introduction Jess explained that it was written during a period when she was listening to Sonic Youth. Her guitar work was exceptional, and she was also perfectly at home singing several of Don Hopkins’ songs, including the pulsing blues of Please Send My Baby Back To Me.

The evening ended on a genuine high note with a marvellous, extended version of Mess Around And Fall In Love, with its infectious cha cha rhythm. Big Wheel are the real deal – don’t miss them next time they roll into town.

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