Australian singer-songwriter, producer, and engineer Michael Carpenter has carved a reputation as a savvy, smart, versatile one-man dynamo. He has an unquenchable desire to soak up his influences and generously passes them forward to his fans and followers. His string of early albums – Baby (1999), Hopefulness (2001), Kings Rd Works (2003), Rolling Ball (2004), and Up Close (2008) – all testify to that fact, given the bounty of stunningly infectious melodies and clever, crafty hooks each album serves up in abundance. However, the most telling example of his fascination with retro references can be found on a series of albums he’s recorded with his sometimes-band The Cuban Heels. Dubbed Songs of Other People, or SOOP for short, these collections consist entirely of cover songs, and each is like a grab bag of classic tracks – some well-known, others obscure – originally recorded by the likes of Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, ELO, and dozens of other icons that influenced Carpenter.
Those skeptical about conveying both covers and credibility need not be concerned. Carpenter doesn’t merely mimic his sources; instead, he puts fastidious effort into each, allowing the outcome to sparkle and shine.
He claims that Songs of Other People Vol. 5, his most recent covers collection, will be the final installment in his SOOP series, but with an A-list of classics drawn from The Byrds, The Hollies, The Stones, Springsteen, and others of that ilk, it appears he’s yet to exhaust his cache of great cover choices. And while you may – or may not – have heard these tunes in their original incarnation, Carpenter’s versions provide a timely reminder of what made these songs so appealing to begin with.
While his musical palette has proven to be remarkably eclectic, his last album of mostly originals, Give the Bone a Dog, shows him veering headlong into Americana. Recorded live in the studio over the course of two evenings, the EP mixes a handful of rugged and riveting originals with choice covers of songs originally recorded by Michael Nesmith and Dan Baird. Pedal steel and slide guitar accentuate the rootsy vibe and hint at the possibility that Carpenter has become more committed than ever to an Aussie take on Americana.
According to Carpenter’s website, the sessions nearly had to be scuttled because he woke up on the morning he was due to record to find his voice was nearly gone. Fortunately, trouper that he is, he persevered. Even though his vocals were noticeably ragged, they added authenticity to the proceedings.
To boot, Carpenter is something of a multitasker; he not only runs his own indie label, Big Radio Records, but he also works as a mastering engineer at the Turtlerock Mastering facility, writes for an Australian recording magazine, and lectures at a local music academy. Suffice it to say, this Carpenter is adept at constructing.