by Chris Familton
Amid the current bountiful run of country and folk music releases coming out of New Zealand is the latest album from songwriter Greg Fleming. Fleming has been writing and recording since the late 80s, exploring his muse and refining his art with each of his handful of albums. His latest, Edge of the City finds him digging deep into characters - some real, some probably ficticious - all existing within the geographical framework of New Zealand and occasionally Australia. The influences on his writing and particularly this album are obvious yet not overt or obtrusively placed in his songs - Petty, Springsteen, Paul Kelly, Drive-by Truckers - they all make guest appearances, hovering above the songs like mentors and troubled saints.
The storytelling aspect of Fleming's songs possesses a noir quality that add to the notion of a series of stories and lives, together in song. The scrapping of earlier written tracks that were intended to make up this release was a blessing in disguise as it allowed Fleming to instead create a record with a strong narrative flow and a cohesive feel. Interestingly, even though the style of the album is americana based, it doesn't necessarily conjure images of the countryside. This is resolutely a landscape of concrete and streets, traffic lights blinking through the Auckland drizzle and people struggling with work, dreams and love. On the title track Fleming sings "The city hums still in my dreams, the backdrop to every scene", a wonderful figurative and literal scene at the centre of the album and a song that delivers mood and melancholy with exquisite melody and some magical guitar and piano. The song also demonstrates how Fleming's voice has developed a rusty burr over the years that fits his style of songwriting hand in glove. The only times that it doesn't entirely convince are when he over-emotes and comes across a tad too earnest as on Thinking It Through but moments like those are rare.
Many of the players (John Segovia, Ted Brown, Dom Blaazar, Andrew B. White) have been around the NZ music scene for years (decades even) and their experience and sensitivity to the songs play a big part in the appeal of the album's sound. The attention to the arrangements and the space they create gives Fleming a wide and compassionate landscape in which to immerse his songs. The strength of Edge of the City is its attention to honest, literate songwriting and the distinctly homegrown images it conjures up making it a wonderful example of urban musical poetry.
Edge of the City is out now and available to stream and buy on Bandcamp: