Archie Roach - "Jamu Dreaming"
released through Aurora

On the cover of this album is a man of solid build with close shaven hair, the sort of person one would not want to bump into in a dark alley. If one were to guess at the kind of music a man like this would be recording, one would probably guess that it was something in the rock vein. But there's something that suggests maybe this assumption may be incorrect. Instead of looking down menacingly, the man looks to the sky like a child.

After one listen to "Jamu Dreaming" it is clear that the music of Archie Roach bears more resemblance to the simple acoustic sounds that are the trademarks of artists like Stephen Cummings or Paul Kelly (who produced Archie's first album, and also performs on this second album).

Okay, I have to admit I took this CD from Interp not knowing much about Archie Roach. I'd heard a little about this aboriginal singer/songwriter, so I was half-expecting another of those exercises in native/modern fusion a la Yothu Yindi. The lyrics on his first album had been praised by many, so I expected a mourning of the loss of the aboriginal way of life, but not the hope, love and joy that is imbued in this album.

Musically, "Jamu Dreaming" relies on simple beauty, not catchy choruses. Archie is no great tunesmith, so he relies on the power of his voice and his lyrics to keep the listener captivated. His voice is most impressive on the slower songs (especially "Walking Into Doors"), where he can let his voice breathe in the simple piano arrangement. David Bridie (of Not Drowning, Waving) produced this album, and has kept the arrangements simple, inconspicuous and effective. The atmospheric but strongly rhythmic title track reminds me of some of Genesis's free form experimentations, with it's didgeridoo, sampled sounds, and drums that lurk in the background.

Archie's lyrics are unashamedly from the heart, and in his homilies to family life, it is his sheer honesty that prevents the listener from cringing. When he sings of Aboriginal children being removed from their parents to be raised by white families (which was once a common practice and happened to Archie), the catchy "From Paradise" is a tale of sorrow, not hate. His material ranges through songs of domestic violence ("Walking Into Doors"), the wonder that comes from being a father ("Mr T"), and simple domestic happiness ("Love in the Morning").

If this album is an improvement on his first (I can't judge, having not heard "Charcoal Lane"), then Archie is set to record some important music in the future as he becomes more comfortable with the strange art that is songwriting. For now, "Jamu Dreaming" shows that Archie has learnt the value of family, something he's not about to let go of as he comes to terms with his past.

© David Gilliver 1993

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