Midway through this gem of an album, Skyscraper Stan is spitting staccato lyrics over the thundering freight-train backing of The Commission Flats. He channels the bastard child of Augie March and Nick Cave while reminding us that for just one fleeting second everyone was ‘once the youngest man on Earth’ and ‘that first unseeing second was their only taste of fame’. It could be an allegory for our favourite industry, lamenting how an album of this calibre can go unnoticed – that in just a moment or two it goes from being an amazing new release to being old news. To being ‘Last Year’s Tune’.
Skyscraper Stan, AKA Melbourne’s Stan Woodhouse ‘caught the train to nowhere’ and that train ‘will come in late if it even comes at all’, but given the chance, if you see it, you need to get on it without hesitation. That’s because this is an album that delivers on every level it’s possible to deliver on; you need to hear it. It’s an independent release, self-funded by a guy who sleeps in his car as he travels around Australia playing ‘a tune or two … to keep from starving’. But while dollars spent on production don’t necessarily equate to quality, this collection of songs is so stunningly well produced that Woodhouse has either ploughed every cent he had into its realisation, or he’s completely lucked out and found the most amazing production crew in Australia.… probably both. I’ve fawned in the past about the ‘honesty’ that bleeds through your speakers when a well-produced home studio recording is playing, but every one of the eleven tracks in this set is crystal clear and flawlessly realised – and you don’t even need honesty when you can write and deliver material as good and as well as this.
So what about that material? Start at the beginning with ‘Chief’. Maybe you don’t realise it on the first few listens, but both Stan’s vocals and the solid guitar work of Oskar Herbig harp back to their love of early 50s rock ‘n’ roll. The stylings they’ve dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century are subtly obscured behind the veil of a modern blues outfit and lyrics which are immediately familiar to anybody who has spent any time in Melbourne’s inner suburbs in the last ten years or so. Skyscraper Stan’s love of 50s rock, born from a fusion of country and jazz, breaks its shackles and arrives in full force on the second track ‘Always Thinking of You’ and is revisited again on ‘Anyway You Please.’ Richard Hawley is probably the only other artist of late who’s been here, and now he finds himself in good company. In between the 50s jaunts, Stan pays tribute to his other influences. Nick Cave gets another shake in ‘William Henry Hayes’ and Stan tips his hat to any number of folk legends on ‘Bruce’, ‘Woody Guthrie’ and the album’s title track (which also somehow manages to visit Pink Floyd territory).
Skyscraper Stan’s biggest achievement with this album is that with his first release he’s found the sweet spot that many Australian blues and roots artists spend their lives looking for. He’s crafted an album that is undeniably Australian, but there’s not a boomerang, a kangaroo or a Vegemite sandwich in sight. While we meet people with ‘a head full of Carlton and a soft pack of reds’, unlike Don Walker’s dour depictions of modern Australia’s misfits and outcasts, Skyscraper Stan’s Australia is still a relatively happy and positive place. He gets your foot tapping as he builds his songs from the pieces he’s borrowed from predominantly American jazz, blues, country and rock artists living and dead. If ‘Last Year’s Tune’ is any indication, Skyscraper Stan’s going to achieve even bigger things in the years ahead.